In the Loop - 2024 U.S. National Unlimited Advanced Glider Championships

2024 U.S. National Unlimited and Advanced Glider Championships 

The annual U.S. National Aerobatic Championships for the Unlimited and Advanced glider categories was once again held in conjunction with the Estrella Glider Classic, since 2021. 

The weather was a bit chilly the first couple of days, during practice, but by the first competition flight temperatures climbed into the 80's. A repeat of last year's high winds and dust devils thankfully didn't make an appearance this year.

Attendance was slightly reduced due to the moving the contest date from February to March for a weather improvement. Spring break was in effect causing a few pilots and volunteers to opt for family vacations.

Both the Unlimited and Advanced were affected by the lower participation. In 2022 the Unlimited category had 5 competitors and 2023 there were 3. The Unlimited category was reduced to Jason Stephens and Jim Bourke, who felt de ja vu as they had faced each other in 2021 as the two long competitors in Unlimited. The result was the same as 2021 with Jason finishing in first place to become the 7-time U.S. National Unlimited Aerobatic Glider Champion and Jim Bourke in second.

The Advanced pilots were completely comprised of U.S. Air Force Academy officers. The top three competitors, Ethan Smith, Gretchen Knox and Jacob Mohancs traded places finishing first, second and third throughout their three flights. Michael Laub, also USAFA, challenged the trio when he won the Known flight. When the championship came to its conclusion Ethan came away as the U.S. National dvanced Champion, followed by Gretchen in second and Jacob in third place.

The Classic is a regional contest for Primary through Sportsman glider categories.

The U.S. Air Force Academy came about a week early to practice.  There were 5 new cadets flying in their first competition. Of the 5, one competed in Primary and the rest competed in Sportsman. 

In the Primary category a good-natured competition took place for first and second place between civilian first-time competitors Victoria Thom and Amelia Anderson. Both consistently in the 70%+ range with Amelia taking a first-place flight medal with her best score of 80.50%. In the end Victoria came out as the first-place winner with a total score of 77.85% for three flights.

Anticipation was high for the Sportsman glider category with last year's Estrella Classic winner Richard (Dak) Davis flew against Robin Simmons, the 2023 U.S. National Aerobatic Sportsman Glider Champion.  Robin started out strong with a first-place finish in the Known flight with a score of 72.82% over Dak's score of 69.68% for second and Jerry Riedinger's score of 69.42% for a third-place flight medal.

As can happen to anyone, Robin continued to dominate in the next flight, but the third flight came along, and Lady Luck wasn't with him.  Figure 2, a half Cuban got him turned around. Attempts to straighten out the sequence were successful on Figure 3, the Immelmann, but Figure 4, the 1 1/4 spin, once again threw the sequence off.  Meanwhile, Dak was flying his best of the contest with a 75.90%. Jerry Riedinger did a great job of keeping in step with Dak and came in with a first-place flight medal with a 75.34% on the second flight.  At the end of the contest Dak was the overall first-place winner of the Estrella Classic Sportsman category with Jerry Riedinger finishing in second and first-time competitor Payton Nunn, from the U.S. Air Force Academy, finished in third place.

In the Intermediate category, civilian Greg Borovykh successfully collected a first-place flight medal in the Known and Free flights. Luke Lipetska, from the U.S. Air Force Academy clinched second and third place respectively in both flights.  The Unknown didn't change the final standings between the pair, even though Luke won a first-place medal over Greg's third place finish.  Greg came out on top as the winner of the Estrella Classic in the Intermediate category with Luke finishing in second place and Joseph Tschetter, also from the U.S. Air Force Academy, in third place.

As always, the contest couldn't have been run without all the volunteers that came out to support the effort. Thank you to Shad Coulson, who planned many of the details months in advanced. Due to his work schedule, he was unable to attend, however,  he was available throughout the contest on the phone for any last minute questions or details. Thank you to airport manager Amber, who suddenly became the registrar when another volunteer was unable to attend due to a health issue. We appreciate Lorrie Penner for training Amber and helping her out with all the paperwork as well as acting as the scoring director.  Special thanks to Jason Stephens for promoting glider aerobatics and hosting glider competitions at Arizona Soaring (Estrella Sailport).

Without the judges, we'd have no scores! So, we are humbled by those who traveled from great distances to take care of judging for the U.S. Nationals and the Estrella Classic. Jerry and Peggy Riedinger, Gordon Penner, Joe McMurray, Jim Bourke, Mark Matticola and Keith Doyne. 

Find all the scores online here: 
Estrella Classic:  
US National Unlimited/Advanced Aerobatic Championships: