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Soaring through the skies at Papawai airfield

The 2024 National Gliding Championships reaches a climax at the Papawai Airfield near Greytown today.

The event hosted by the Wellington Wairarapa Gliding Club [WWGC] started a week ago, producing many results to tally [see this Saturday’s paper for final placings].

Organiser Grae Harrison said there are two main categories for the competition.

“The first is the Club class, which are gliders about 30 to 45 years old and with a wingspan of 15 meters,” he said.

“The other class is the open class, which is newer gliders with 18-20 meters wingspans. The gliders are made from fibreglass, and some have carbon fibre.”

About 16 gliders took to the air yesterday as part of the tail-end of the competition, Harrison said.

The gliders have two ways they can be launched; one being a propeller plane which tows it down the runway.

“The second option, which is used most of the time, is a winch,” he said.

“It has a powerful 8.2 litter V8 engine which pulls the gliders from zero to 60 knots or 110 kph per hour in just a few seconds. The pilot climbs to 2000 feet at an angle of 45 degrees until the pilot releases the rope.

“The rope then falls down with a parachute where it is hooked to the back of a Ute and towed to the next glider.”

The gliders follow a pre-determined course based on the weather forecasts for that day.

Yesterday’s course was 200 km and focused on the gliders travelling over columns of warm air.

“On a bright blue-sky day, you will notice the white puffy clouds floating around,” he said.

“These are called cumulus clouds, and they are columns of warm air that rise and form into said clouds.

“They provide the pilots with temporary lift, so they will always be looking to fly through those.”

The pilots are aiming to complete the course in the fastest times in their respective categories.

This year is also the first year of the Papawai Cup, which will be awarded in the open-class competition.

Harrison said that once this event concludes, pilots will likely go to the Central Districts Competition in Waipukurau in Central Hawke’s Bay, starting this Saturday.

Freddie Wilkie
Freddie Wilkie
Freddie Wilkie is a journalist at the Wairarapa Times-Age; originally moving from Christchurch, he is interested in housing stories as well as covering emergencies and crime.

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