I am off to lunch, planning to read the 45-page FAI Gliding World Championship rulebook for the very first time. I am a US Soaring Team member, and I am unfamiliar with the rules, strategies, and tactics of an FAI World Gliding Championships. The same goes for most of my teammates. I am, essentially, a ping-pong player, heading off to play tennis at Wimbledon.

All North American soaring competition pilots are forced by the USA’s “National Aeroclub,” the Soaring Society of America (SSA) to compete under a unique set of soaring competition rules (and tasks) known formally as the “US Rules.” The rest of the world runs their races under the FAI rules. All United States (and Canadian) soaring contests must use the “US Rules, ” or forfeit sanctioning and therefore become ineligible for event insurance coverage from the SSA’s insurance partner. Of course, this causes considerable concern for contest organizers as well as some financial pain. So FAI rules events in North America are exceedingly rare.

There is no justification for the SSA to impose its sanctioning restriction on US contest organizers who might consider choosing to run an FAI rules-based competition from time to time (or regularly). The rest of the soaring world uses the FAI rules safely and successfully. As far as I can measure, the US rules have resulted in ZERO (to negative) measurable benefit to US soaring competition participation, growth curve, enthusiasm, junior participation, competition quality, or overall enjoyment, etc. The defenders blame modern times, but this conveniently conceals key facts and stifles focus on many real problems with the US contest rules.

To compete in the FAI World Gliding Championships, the US Team pilots must start by carefully reading the FAI rules. They must first try and comprehend the potential scoring and risk scenarios, prepare themselves for how to approach it theoretically (with virtually no practical experience). Once the competition begins, they must then try and adapt in a very short time-frame to an entirely different set of competition rules when they set off for the FAI World Championship (often their first international competition).

At the WGC, our US Team pilots must adapt to numerous new challenges which they are, when honest with themselves, almost entirely unprepared to deal with. How could they be prepared? Challenges such as:
1) foreign tasking (mainly assigned tasks)
2) foreign start procedures
3) foreign finish procedures
4) team flying communication
5) leveraging team flying strategy and making tactical and strategic decisions together in the air while dealing with competitors at a far more advanced level
6) foreign strategy and tactics (based on FAI scoring)
7) communication with the US team base and leveraging the value of that communication
8) intense competition, etc., etc. before competing in the extremely competitive FAI Gliding World Championship.

That is an extraordinarily challenging task for the entire US Soaring team to try and overcome. The US Soaring Team pilots always compete at the FAI World Championship with minimal experience competing with the world’s top sailplane racing pilots under the world standard competition rules for sailplane racing (FAI). This suicide mission the SSA sends its pilots on is essentially no different than sending the US ping pong team to Wimbledon tennis championship. Needless to say, this intentional foolishness results in a significant performance handicap for our US Soaring Team pilots. At every WGC, the United States Soaring Team shows up unprepared and handicapped by not being allowed to compete in the same sport as the others. Most other national soaring teams are, in contrast, highly comfortable, familiar with and experienced in the very specific and refined tactics, starting, finishing, logistics and overall strategies which are required to compete and win at the FAI world gliding championship level.

We are the only country in the world that chooses to create, manage and support unique soaring competition rules (and infamous excuses for tasking such as the US AT, MAT (aka HAT) and the 30-mile radius turn area AAT. One generous individual supports custom US scoring software. It is an unsophisticated program called “winscore.” Only a handful of scorers in the United States and Canada are capable of running the winscore software efficiently in a contest environment. This usually means long waits for scores after flying, etc. The enormous effort required to support unique US rules (an elected rules committee, opinion polls, training scorers, great debate annually, highly complex rules, etc.) is a massive waste of our US soaring communities time and resources.

Also, the USA (and Canada), due to the US rules (and our questionable leadership which stubbornly clings to them), results in North America soaring contests calling virtually zero racing tasks (assigned tasks). Even when the US runs a “talking purple unicorn rare” assigned task, the US rules make irritating changes which unsurprisingly result in huge tactical ramifications (entirely ruining the concept of racing). Changes such as allowing pilots to accumulate additional distance in the 1-mile radius turns. Therefore a pilot can win the “race” with the same finish time by accumulating more distance in the 1-mile radius turns! Really? Unreal. Regardless, the US calls almost zero racing tasks annually, even at our world championship qualification vehicle, the US national championships. Once the US Soaring Team arrives at the FAI World Gliding Championships, 50-67% of the tasks will be racing tasks (as they damn well should be). The simple fact is that our US Soaring Team pilots are entirely unprepared for competition at the FAI World Championship level in the assigned task.

Racing or “assigned tasks” are completely different animals than watered down, non-racing, timed “turn area tasks.” Especially under the FAI scoring which devalues risk much differently that US rules. The turn area (or assigned area) task is designed specifically for dealing with less than ideal soaring conditions, challenging weather (such as thunderstorms) or managing wide-ranging handicap classes.

In the USA, on an annual basis, maybe 3% of all tasks called are “US rules” racing tasks. Many of the SSA “good old boys” openly argue and aggressively evangelize that we should have no more racing tasks in the USA, period. This 3% holds relatively level, even in US national championships for pure classes such as 15 or 18 meter (not handicapped). So, the result is, unsurprisingly, that the US Soaring Team qualifies its World Gliding Championship pilots by using unique (and internationally insignificant) US rules system and entirely different tasks which have very little or nothing to do with the FAI rules.

Again, what the US Soaring Team is forced to do is play checkers to qualify to compete in the FAI World Soaring Championship of… chess! #stupid