Monday, June 30, 2014

Memories from the 1976 World Championships in Finland

WGC2014 – Räyskälä, Finland
29 June   (no-contest day)
by John Good

It was too much to hope that our first-rate weather of yesterday would persist.  It hasn’t, and today’s forecast calls for low clouds and steady rain, probably lasting well into tomorrow.  Without the smallest change of soarable weather, today’s flying was cancelled at the morning pilot briefing. 

The day wasn’t without a welcome dose of aviation, however.  At about 9:30 the roar of round engines was heard, and out of the grim sky appeared a DC-3, which landed, taxied in and parked.  Glider pilots may act unimpressed when contemplating a sleek modern composite sailplane with a glide ratio of 60 to 1.  But land a 70-year-old rivet-encrusted aluminum ship with a glide ratio around 7 to 1, and they will rush to inspect it, oblivious of light rain.  

This example is owned by an aviation club near Helsinki; they apparently use it for weekend jaunts and are on the lookout for excuses to fly - a gliding competition is just the sort of event worth a visit.  This DC-3 is in top condition – perhaps a bit short of museum perfection, but about as nice a flying example as could be found anywhere. Unfortunately, the rules of the club allow only members to fly in it, and one-day memberships are not allowed.  If not for this, I expect they could have made some decent money hauling 20 or so soaring pilots on 15-minute rides.   

I’ve been given an interesting (and obviously rare) book to read: it’s a bound collection of all the daily bulletins published at Räyskälä's last World Gliding Contest, held in 1976.  Back in those ancient pre-Internet days, it took a lot more effort to put out stories about the goings-on at a big soaring contest.  It was normal for contest organizers to assemble a group of volunteers tasked with creating a sort of daily newspaper for the contest.  At WGC1976, this was done properly: a staff of seven worked hard every day to generate and type up stories, and take, develop and print photos. All this was then laid out and run to a print shop about an hour away, printed at night, and copies hauled back to the airfield for (free) distribution the next morning, under the saucy name “The Groundloop”. 

Thirty-eight years later, it makes interesting reading.  The two competition classes were Open (with 39 entries) and Standard (46 entries).  Open Class entrants favored the ASW-17 and the Nimbus 2, with a smattering of Jantars and one highly-tuned Glasflugel 604. The most popular ship in the Standard class was Finland’s own PIK-20.  Others included the Cirrus, Jantar Standard, LS-1f, Hornet, Astir CS, and DG-100. 

US pilots were Ross Briegleb, a young Tommy Beltz, Dick Johnson and Dick Butler (owner of that ‘604 and the only pilot among those 85 entrants still competing at the World level – he’ll be flying at the contest in Poland in just a couple of weeks).  Listing all the notable pilots’ names would be difficult (there are many world champions), but included are soaring legends like Klaus Holighaus, Ingo Renner, and Helmut Reichmann.  One 1976 Standard Class competitor has a unique connection to the 2014 contest: Ralph Jones is the father of Steve and Howard, who have a tight grip on first place in the 20-Meter class.   

The bulletins make it clear that closed airspace simply wasn’t an issue in 1976.  A total of 32 turnpoints allowed good use of southern Finland (the 2014 turnpoint list has 327 (!) entries – though at the rate we’re going 32 would have been enough to meet our needs). Score sheets were obviously produced by computer: each one says “Results computed by Wang System 2200”.  Weather was an issue: one article mentions that “it is the coldest June in Finland for 100 years.”  Plus ça change

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