Friday, August 17, 2012

Gena Tabery, On the Fly: Teamwork

The United States team operates at a disadvantage, compared to other countries, because its contest rules specifically forbid team flying. Most U.S. pilots have not flown collaboratively with a teammate until they reach the world competition level, and they cannot adequately benefit from the advantages of sharing information in flight.  This spring many members of the U.S. Soaring Team met in Chilhowee, Tennessee for a week specifically to work on team-flying strategies, coached by former  15-meter World Champion Brian Spreckley. The team met again in Uvalde for the informal practice period prior to the official practice week.

Absent from both of those training periods were Open Class pilots Dick Butler and Ron Tabery: Mr. Butler was still finishing his Concordia glider, and Mr. Tabery had work commitments. While the rest of the U.S. team pre-practiced in Uvalde, the Open Class team met up in Kerrville, Texas, to work the tough hill country area away from onlookers eager to catch a glimpse of the Concordia. They also wanted to work on team flying. Both Mr. Butler and Mr. Tabery are known for their individualism, and it was a matter of great speculation as to how well they would take to working together as a team.

All doubts have been put to rest. “Dick is my mentor,” says Mr. Tabery. “There is no one else in the U.S. I would rather fly with.” As for his part, Mr. Butler says, “Ron and I think very similarly. I admire his decision making greatly.” Taciturn on the radio when flying alone, the Butler-Tabery team has astonished their teammates by the amount of consultation and conversation while racing. “Those two are like girls at a prom,” says 15-meter teammate John Seaborn. Mr. Butler has joked, “I’m afraid our teammates are going to kick us off the U.S. frequency if we keep on talking like we have been.”

Other countries very greatly in the time spent training for a world championship. The German team is famous for their organization, and before each championship they spend two weeks training in St. Auban. This year they spent additional time in Uvalde prior to the official practice period. But as is true for other countries, not every team member can get away from work obligations to attend such extended training. And they are flying unfamiliar aircraft. One team member reports that he had flown his new Quintus M exactly twice before it was shipped to the U.S.

The entire Australian team flew at Uvalde last year in the Pre-World competition, and several members of that team had extended practice periods here before this WGC. David Jansen came to Uvalde at the beginning of July and spent the entire month flying here. In contrast, the South African team had no formal training as a team and also have new planes to contend with. Laurens Goudriaan reports having flown his JS-1 four times before arriving in Uvalde. However, that team has the advantage of two sets of brothers who have flown together for years. Similarly the Belgian team does not train, and they are flying ships they had flown only a few times before this competition.

The British team, also flying new planes, goes through no formal training. “But we are familiar with each other and have flown together before. We fly cooperatively,” says Open Class pilot Peter Harvey. The Polish team has no organized training period, but Open Class pilot Wiktor Kozlik reports that at their national competition, they are assigned a partner with whom they will fly at the WGC, and they fly their national competition with that teammate.

The Italian team does not organize a training period for their pilots, but their pilots traditionally have flown with their teammates. Says Katrin Ghiorzio of her husband, 15-meter World Champion Stefano Ghiorzio and his teammate Thomas Gostner,  “Thomas and Stefano always fly together as a team.” They fly several European competitions before the WGC. “But this year,” says Mrs. Ghiorzio, “so many of our European contests had bad weather and rain, and they could not fly. And the conditions here are so different, the practice was not helpful.”

The French, who appear to have more group cohesion that almost any team on the field, devote at least one week each spring to training at the national center at St. Auban. Other than that, says Open Class pilot Sylvain Gerbaud, “We prepare for competitions by flying competitions.” And when he says flying, he means team flying.

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