United States selected as host country for World Aerobatics

The International Aerobatics Commission (CIVA) headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, announced this week that the United States has been selected as the host country for the XXII World Aerobatic Championships in 2003.

The championships will be held June 25 through July 4, 2003, at the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In campus at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland, Fla. The International Aerobatic Club (IAC) as the governing body for aerobatics in the United States, in partnership with Sun ‘n Fun and the United States Aerobatic Foundation, will coordinate the 10-day international event.

“I am delighted that the world aerobatic championship event will be hosted in the United States,” said Michael Heuer, CIVA president. “This will be an exceptional opportunity to show the American public the importance aviation plays in the world air sports arena and an occasion to showcase the most talented and skilled pilots from around the globe.”

The World Aerobatic Championships (WAC), which are held every other year in locations around the world, returns to the United States after an eight-year absence. Only two other American locations have ever hosted the championships: Oklahoma City in 1996 and Oshkosh, Wis., in 1980. The 2001 WAC was held in Burgos, Spain.

“This is the Olympics of Aerobatics,” said Rob Dorsey, President of the IAC. “We are thrilled that the international community has confidence in our ability to hold a world-class event here in the U.S. We are also excited that the event coincides with our nation’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first powered flight. The year 2003 will certainly be a memorable one for aviation in the United States and around the world.”

Dorsey credited Sun ‘n Fun President John Burton and Vice President Greg Harbaugh as being instrumental in the U.S. selection.

“The truth is,” Dorsey said, “there are very few aviation facilities that have the on-site amenities and wonderful volunteer network that Sun ‘n Fun has to offer. That central Florida is also known as the entertainment capital of the world will ensure a wide variety of offerings for all those involved in the event whether they be participants or spectators,” said Dorsey.

“We’re thrilled to be selected as the host site for the World Aerobatic Championships,” Burton said. “This is a great opportunity to elevate Sun ‘n Fun’s profile within the international aviation community and showcase our year-round facilities. We’re pleased to bring a world championship event of this caliber to Lakeland and Polk County. The economic impact should be significant.”

Burton thanked all those who supported Sun ‘n Fun’s efforts to bid for the Championships. Letters of support were received from Lakeland mayor Buddy Fletcher, the Polk County Board of Commissioners, the Orlando Flight Service District Office (FSDO), Lakeland Linder Regional Airport management, Central Florida/Polk County Sports Marketing Commission, and surrounding property owners.

The World Aerobatic Championships awards individual men and women world titles, as well as national team titles, in aerobatic flight. Between 800 - 1000 pilots, representatives, officials and judges from 15 to 20 countries are expected to participate.

Pilot competitors will be judged on their ability to fly a series of compulsory and freestyle flights. One flight is known and practiced before the competition. Another flight is unknown to the competitor until hours before the pilot takes flight. And yet another flight tests a pilot’s skill to design and fly a program that is both technically challenging and artistically appealing to an audience.

Aerobatics is a motorsport attracting thousands of competitors world-wide. Nearly a thousand competitors compete in the United States alone at 60 local, regional and national competitions annually. The sport has a 30-year history, but it has not been until recently that the sport is looking to appeal to a public audience.

Contrary to public opinion, aerobatic pilots are not “stunt” pilots. They are highly skilled pilots who train rigorously to perform the maneuvers seen. The pilots must know the limits of their aircraft, as well as the limits of their own ability to perform. Just as in any sport, it is the training that sets these pilots apart from the rest.

There are five skill levels in aerobatic competition: Primary, Sportsman, Intermediate, Advanced, and Unlimited. The system is designed as a “building-block” approach for pilots who want to “work their way up the ladder” in their respective skill level and move up from one category to another as they build experience in the sport. Select athletes involved in the highest level of competition -- the Unlimited category -- compete in the World Aerobatic Championships.

The United States Unlimited team that will compete at the World Aerobatic Championships in 2003 will be selected at the U.S. National Aerobatic Championships, which will be held September 21-29, 2002 at the Perrin Air Force Base in Denison, TX.

According to Steve Cunningham, President of the United States Aerobatic Foundation, the World Aerobatic Championships have been held since 1960. The Foundation took on the responsibility to train and fund Team USA in 1982.

At the last World Aerobatic Championships, held in Burgos, Spain in June 2001, two U.S. pilots were among the top 10 finalists. U.S. pilot Robert Armstrong finished in second place, while David Martin finished seventh. Overall, Team USA won 13 medals for their performances in individual flights - 5 gold, 5 silver and 3 bronze. The men’s team also came home with a bronze medal. 

Specific details of individual events, times and locations to be held during the 2003 World Aerobatic Championships in Lakeland will be announced as they are confirmed.