»I have no active projects now. Nothing,« said Sebastian Kawa, for the many years the world best glider pilot, on the beginning of October 2018. »There will be some testing of Diana 3 next month. We want to compare it with JS1 and JS3. There were clear and easy to repair mistakes on this prototype and it should be improved in November.« Sebastian is working on new project even when it seems that he is not working on anything. He kindly answered to some question for Opensoaring. Yes, this what he did this season was historical for gliding. In his 29 great win in his long lasting sport career, the last three in the row on 2018 was incredible. No one know how many energy he has to put on this, not even the people, who are steering world gliding competition.
After you won the 3-world title in a single season (FGP Vitacura, Ostrow, Hosin), you told us that such achievement most probably can’t be repeated, and we certainly believe you, but tell us more how did you prepare yourself physically and psychologically to get through the season and all competitions?
I am very happy that it was possible because nothing was going smoothly this year. I already tried to win worlds three times in one season but it didn’t work. This time, I have been concentrating on it and I told to myself this is the goal. There was no specific preparation, I used to compete 3-4 times a year in big events but the clue was to win the first one. Chile was a biggest challenge as we had to fly in remote mountainous areas which I don’t know. Best would be to fly there a year earlier, in Andes open or in a Qualifying grand Prix to learn local paths, fastest passages which is crucial in competition. Otherwise you are just a background lumbering behind local pilots. This was not possible year earlier because there was a competition in Australia.
Moreover, competition in Chile was almost ruined for me by the fact that wings of JS1 heated under the black cover in the sun deformed. In grand Prix it is crucial to have well performing glider as you can lose just by meters on the finish line. Usually we have a final glide 50- 70 km long when at least several gliders start from the same position in last thermal and if you have a weaker glider you have no chances.
It was clearly visible in Varese where ASG 29 with smaller wing area was flying with reduced mass against JS1. JS just flew faster and was 2km ahead on finish line. Reducing mass for this particular event is not fair for designers building gliders for the limit of MTOM but we have to deal with it again and again. It seemed there is no way to repair my glider. Two weeks prior to competition in remote country, nobody took the responsibility for this damage and there was no hope for help form a workshop in Poland or manufacturer. I had to try to do something myself. I have never done it before so I called friends, took some advice and for next week I worked hardly sandpapering bumpy structure in the morning, rigging glider for race, flying a task and coming back to workshop in the evening. Fortunately, club allowed me to work in their facility in the shadow and I could use their machinery. The result was not so bad as stripped from paint “Papa” flew like the newest gliders in this competition.
Beside this Chile was a challenge and as I consider it was the hardest competition of all times, at least for me. For someone not really familiar with these mountains it is difficult to fly there. I flew it previously in 2010, but this time we flew much deeper in the mountains. It was much more interesting but very difficult and tiring. I tried to learn as much as I could during Andess Open, but you would need to spent at least one season flying there to properly recognize the paths in this labyrinth.
We did mistakes, flaying in the areas that cause local pilots to scratch their eyes that we really took that way. Once I flew north of Pelambres on the lee side form main range, shorter path, but it was really nothing to land on. Next time I decided to extend AAT task north to try to fly standard route down but I missed the right slope and ended flying deeply in Argentina. Well, route was not so bad and eventually brought me back to Geoglifo ridge but it was scary to fly in a waste rocky desert seeing dark sides of the proper ridges in the west.
I don’t know why, but in Chile we flew closer to rocks, with less margin. It was not giving us any advantage I think, but it looks like pilots changed mind setting there to more risky bias and we flew with knives in our teeth. After this competition we tried to organize flying camp with European pilots and gliders in Vitacura, but it turned out that people see it as a difficult place to fly and the only way it would work, was to fly double seater with instructor. You can’t rent them in Chile. Unfortunately, there was only one glider ready to be shipped to Chile, but with not enough of founding to cower the transportation cost. Pity, because it is really area with stable good weather and it is much nicer to fly in such a beautiful mountains than anywhere else.
WGC in Ostrów was supposed to be easier, we were home, but again problems appeared. Only days before opening ceremony I had to change glider. GP 15 was not ready and I took old good ASG 29 with short wingtips. Last time anyone used it was probably in 2010, in Chile. First relatively good days with Lukas Grabowski we used to get to know each other in flight and learn some cooperation. He took it seriously and flying in a pair was good. Initially we didn’t care of the fact that choosing own starting time we are putting ourselves on the line for followers. It turned out that with mandatory open Flarm mode, and not delayed tracking, finding gliders was very easy and flying behind on the start line was so successful that everyone tried to do it. We ended with something that was named be steward “Kawa guided tours”.
Competition director tried to counteract by setting the time slotted start but the first day with this rule was not the best one, because weather was deteriorating and everyone decided to start with us in the first moment the start line was opened. After many protests the rule was withdrawn. Few days later we ended with even bigger gaggle when all classes decided to fly together in the same moment. Nothing happened but it was a Hitchcock like swarm scene.
For us, in 15 m class there was no other way but to fight back with the same weapon. We decided to wait on the start line for our opponents until it was almost impossible to finish the task. Our gliders, Diana 2 and engineless ASG 29 were lighter and possibly performing better in dying thermals in the evening. It worked, we managed to beat French but you can’t keep an eye on everything and Germans sneak out. For the last day the target was clear but again there was a line of gliders flying behind me from the moment I released from the tow.
There was no way to hide. They would again fly just few minutes behind and in this situation winning would be impossible. Seeing that and calculating that we still have an hour to wait until we would cross the start line I counted gliders on the grid. My class was already all in the air, and I decided that there will be still about 30 minutes left if I land and launch after standard class. From 2000m altitude I opened airbrakes and came down. Moment later group of gliders dispersed and Germans crossed start line alone. In the mean time I washed my glider, I fixed a bug wiper and I was waiting for last gliders to be launched. It was very quick climb and I started immediately together with Łukasz who joined me on the other side of the start line. When I stood on the runway he could hide flying further in the east. It worked out. On the third leg we caught up our opponents and completed the task winning the last day and the whole championships.
Hosin was the same story. We arrived last moment to competition site as Mirek was busy working. First few tasks I had to get used to a different glider and in competition again we had tracking and handing information from the ground to pilots. As a result, we had big groups flying together, with a minimal difference in scoring and fortunately, we managed to get small advantage in our favor. Fortunately, there were some team trying to play these game in the group. Belgian, Czech, Lithuanian, French teams were choosing own start times on the line when the game was too long and when we decided to catch up Brits in a waiting game then they had also a problem because their advantage on second position was endangered to. They gave up. We could do what we wanted till the end of the competition and the game was between French and Brits than. In this season winning competition was on points.
Tactical flying took over and there was no room to spread forth wings and to develop gliding skills. Sad. I hope in the future Flarm and tracking will be banned in big competitions or there will be other solutions to overcome leaching problem. In the situation we have now following on the start line is so fruitful that there is no other way to win. We also had to join this game.
WGC in Ostrow was probably the biggest success of Polish team ever, ( Club: 2. Tomasz Rubaj, 4. Jakub Barszcz, standard: 3. Mateusz Siodloczek, 5. Lukasz Blaszcyk, 15m: 1. Sebastian Kawa, 2. Lukasz Grabowsky). How you would comment this?
It was the best team result historically. But we had hunger for more. There were chances for better results in std and club classes. Especially bad luck of Tomasz was painful. He was in a good position to win the gold.
What was the media coverage of competition and reaction on such a great achievement in Poland.
Beside sportive result, competition in Ostow was also a media success and it was widely commented in Poland. We were not alone, also local authorities and community cooperated organizing beautiful events close to a big city and civilization, not as gritty sad event as we are used to. The only problem was the rainy weather for a few days.
In Open Class on WGC you didn’t compete yet, will you in the future?
That was one of my targets besides 3 wins in WGC in one year. Unfortunately, the team has no competitive open class glider and as we saw in Hosin the gap is huge. First clue is the final glide between Zdzisław flying JS 1 against Michael Sommer. From the last thermal he barely reached finish line flying 130 km/h while EB29 zoomed in the same leg with 190km/h. Michael was out of reach. For now, I have a plan to try Diana 3 in competition instead.
What do you think about 13,5m Class, will it last or it is temporary fashion?
After some hiccups with unfortunate wing loading limit that stroke newly designed gliders with smaller wing area, there is a chance for those gliders to become an interesting UL event. Contrary to PW5, performance is comparable or a little bit better to modern standard class so it is not a step back. Flying and handling of these light gliders is like walk in a park. There is a plan for few kilowatts of electricity allowance during the race and it opens completely new horizons. We could utilize more difficult weather making it easy to join in for more conservative pilots and competitors from UL world. After all, if we have UL or LSA planes flying in this competition it makes it easier for producers and pilots to fulfill the regulations.
On WGC in Ostrow, Ichigawa was flying in Standard Class not to compete against you, would you rather see him in your Class?
Mak is a good pilot. I like challenges so it was a pity. But I haven’t been looking at the start list, before I decid to choose a class. Probably he sold his Diana 2 and considered it difficult to fly in 15m class.
You won so many World tiles and so many medals that is hard to track all this success. On FB there is info that you get 25 medals on WGC and out of that 20 victory. Next year will be EU championship in Stolowa Wola and Prievidza, is this rank of competition still challenge for you? And which class would you fly?
All together it is now 29 medals from WGC EGC and WAG. 15 in classic WGC. One or two more does not change anything in my history. For me challenge would be to fly in new areas for gliding like I already did – flying in Himalayas, Caucasus or across Ukrainian Gorgan mountains. It would be great to extend this route to Romanian East Carpathians but it is the political decisions mainly. We did it once showing that it is possible. Very interesting for me would be to explore TienShan and Pamir mountains. There it would be a place for easy base, but again, it is not an easy part of the world. And of course Antarctica. I suppose there will be eventually somebody else trying to do it. Things got stuck, as we need a clear green light from Argentinian side to do any progress.
You are a doctor and also professional glider pilot. We say that you are ambassador of gliding, What would you say about that?
Huge load on my shoulder. I try to cope with my small problems instead. From my point of view, I don’t see any influence on decisions made by our officials. I have seen a lot during these years but any suggestion from my side would rather be rejected than evaluated. For example, I had a proposal to include and unify rules of way and standard procedures in sporting code. Nothing. Well it is political game and politicians don’t like anyone with his own opinions. I try not to comment anything especially in SGP if it is not crucial.
Will you continue with exploring flights in Himalaya and Karakorum or you rather continue with wave flying in Tatre?
There are small goals on my home ground. One would be to finally join parts of the wave track from Sudet Mountains to Beskidy, Tatra, Bieszczady and Gorgan. If the weather permits I will give it a go. Altitude flights are not possible now. For two years we had a special airspace agreement for flying a little higher, but the weather would not cooperate. I wanted to improve our national record in Tatras from 1966. More ambitious goals I plan next year.
In this winter, do you have any planes with Petr Bobula?
We will probably fly together and do the courses for pilots locally. He is very active all year round and if there will be a wave we would probably fly this wave route together or try to visit Ukraine again. All depends on weather. It is unusual for me but this winter I have no plans for competitions, I stay home trying to be a good father and husband. In the free time I need to try to compare JS1, JS3 vs improved Diana 3 and GP 15. Those gliders would be a target for next season. After competitions in Hosin I did already longer flight one on one with JS1 and it was nice to see Diana 3 flying really good. We found obvious problems and it is good news because it is easy to fix. Also it turned out the wing prepared for GP15 few years back for Friedrichshafen as a mockup was far from design limits so we are waiting for the good final result. It is going to be an interesting year when all those gliders including AS33 enter into service.
This year on WGC there was few Chines competitors, did you get any invitation to go there and explore the area?
That would be very exciting, but no. No invitation. They were also present in Australia but we didn’t get to know each other good enough. Although flying in China could be really something. Especially in Tibet.
Sebastian, Thank you for your precious time, we stay with Kind regards, Niko & Co