2017 World Gliding Championship (Benalla)

By Russell Cheetham

I was lucky enough to be part of the British Team for the World Gliding Championship in Benalla in Open Class. Having in recent years specialised in 18m class, I had the opportunity of choosing either 18m or Open Class for this event. So in knowledge of having a great team partner in Andy Davis and a fantastic combi 18m/Open Class glider with the JS1c, curiosity got the better of me and I chose the Open Class. What a great first decision that turned out to be because once all the flying was over I was World Champion, my team mates had medals and the whole team had flown so well that the World Team Cup was also ours.

Starting gliding in 1984 at Saltby in Lincolnshire UK, I quickly learned the basics of soaring in a tatty syndicate Ka6E. It became clear at an early stage that I was competitively minded and it didnít take me long to realise that I needed to race. I was soon successful at Regionals level but it took a number of years at Nationals level to gain some of the additional tactical skills to be successful. Nevertheless, I did eventually win the UK Standard Class Nationals in 1997 which got me my first opportunity at a WGC bizarrely in Open Class such was the British selection system used at the time. I made 9th place and that encouraged me to continue to try and first get selected again and secondly to improve.

A number of milestone successes followed in the coming years with European Gold medals in Open Class at Rayscala and in 18m Class at Nitra but a World Championship medal in any colour continued to elude me. In fact prior to Benalla, I was beginning to think I was becoming a fourth place specialist placing just out of the medals in 18m. at both Uvalde and Leszno.

Roll forward to WGC Benalla, this was an event site that I had no previous experience at all.

However, being aware that historically I performed best in strong conditions I just had to hope that any critical local knowledge could be learnt during the single practise week. It became apparent that the competition task setter would be trying to introduce the complication of mountains into the mix so we spent much of the week learning how best to struggle through these areas in rather poor conditions. I donít think we ever fully got to grips with this but with conditions remaining unexpectedly average to poor during the competition period itself, we were at least fortunate to stay mostly away from the mountains.

Our team were lucky enough to have contacts that allowed us to secure hangarage on the airfield, most useful considering the abnormal weather cycle. Following frontal rain, condition seemed to go in just a few hours through the cumulus phase and on to hot, blue and low which characterised most days. And so the scene was set.

In our Class, we knew that there would be an ever increasing melee of talented pilots flying JS1cís and a few EB29ís, being the pick of the designs currently presiding in this class. I had been told to expect that despite our smaller span, we could expect to retain the edge at least when conditions were moderate to good. However, with the arrival of a revised EB29R derivative sporting new thinner wings and profile and flown by the previous World Champion and his team partner, this could no longer be taken for granted.

Ultimately the weather seemed to play into the hands of the smaller JS1ís to some degree because there was only limited opportunity to follow at moderate speed marked energy lines but instead the style tended towards a fast climb/glide pattern in the blue where our gliders were really at home. So despite only moderate conditions which would normally have been expected to favour the higher aspect ratio EBís, the mix of weather meant that as usual skill and luck were rewarded in favour of any perceived hardware advantage.

Gaggling was inevitably a problem in these weaker blue conditions as reported by many pilots especially in the 15m Class but it seems that in Open Class the style of flying doesnít seem to encourage gaggling in the same way and so thankfully gaggling remained largely absent at least once on task.

I had a great time in Benalla, a great contest and hope to be back one day for more great flying and to visit the very many highlights of Australia that I was completely unable to fit in to one short visit.

A particular thank you to the members of the Gliding Club of Victoria for allowing us to monopolise the facilities for so long whilst so many of them assisted us in the various organisational tasks necessary to achieve a successful contest.


Open Class World Champion Russell Cheetham





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