I. Introduction (1985)

[Editor's Note:  The following talk was delivered October 4th, 2010 at the Barnaby Lecture by John Cochrane and is republished here with his permission.  This talk is rather long so we have provide the first two parts today and will publish subsequent pages over the next several days.]

John Cochrane (BB)

First of all, let me thank the National Soaring Museum, and its director Peter Smith, for inviting me to give this lecture. The Barnaby lecture is organized and supported by the National Soaring Museum, whose mission includes understanding and preserving soaring history, not just beautiful old gliders. It is a great honor to be invited to give this lecture. I now feel like I’m part of gliding history! Let me also thank all of you who came out tonight, in particular the many Chicago-area pilots.

I was asked to talk about the history and evolution of contest soaring. As the son of a historian, I want to go on to think about why contest soaring has evolved the way it has. I can’t resist also speculating about how contest soaring will continue to evolve in the future, and a little bit of how I think it ought to evolve.


I start my story in 1985. Races started with the gate, went  through assigned tasks controlled by cameras, and then a fast final glide to an exciting flying finish. The classic strategy emerged: start late, catch the gaggle, bump up on final glide. The distance task was dropped, and tasks were short enough that the leaders at least typically made it home. Speed was the name of the game.

A remarkable set of new gliders – Ventus, Discus, ASW20 – dominated,  bringing new domain of high speed performance. Wing loadings went up; pilots learned to flying with a lot of water. The combination of the netto variometer and “dolphin flying”  -- really the art of careful course deviations  -- opened the way to the “long glide” style of flying as opposed to the thermal-and-bash-through-sink style of the 1970s.

Spratt manned the gate; Striedeck and Jacobs reigned.  In 1985 Doug Jacobs won the worlds – the last US first place. And the talent pool was deep. Eric Mozer placed 3d, Mike Opitz 5th, Ray Gimmey 7th, and a very young John Seaborn started a remarkable career. I only wish I could report 3/5 in the top 5 at the worlds this year, and 4/5 in the top 10.  I looked up the 1985 national champions via the wonderful Soaring Archive. So many familiar names, and so many youthful faces: National champions Giltner, Beltz, Funston, Johnson; Regional winners included Bartell, Garner, Nadler, Mockler, Scott, Emons, Leffler, Tabery, Jurado, and  many more.

To many, this is remembered as a golden age. That memory may be a big fuzzy.  Weather forecasting wasn’t as good as we have become accustomed to, so there were occasional mass landouts. The late 80s had an uncomfortable string of midairs. And new pilots faced a daunting learning curve of landing out day after day on assigned tasks. But in many ways it was a golden age. Certainly contest soaring had achieved a certain maturity and stability after years of development.

And then it all changed.

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