The Modern World Aerobatic Championships
By Gordon Penner, FAA Gold Seal CFI, Past 2-time Master CFI-Aerobatic, and
Lorrie Penner, Assistant Contest Director, 2013 World Aerobatic Championship
In the movie ‘Top Gun’ fighter pilot ‘Iceman’ asked Maverick’ “Who’s the best pilot?” In October of 2013 the World Aerobatic Championship, or WAC, will be coming to America. Sherman/Dennison, Texas will host up to 60 of the world’s best pilots. Let’s look into the modern World Aerobatic Championship and see how it has developed through the years, going through two world wars in the process, to become what it is today.
On 14 October, 1905 the FAI, or Federation Aeronautique Internationale, was formed. Its job is to verify and catalog all aviation records, and set standards for those records. Modern World Aerobatic Championships, under the FAI, are considered to be those that have been held since 1960.
Even though flight started in America it was the Europeans who really developed and expanded aerobatic flying in the years between 1906 and World War I. In 1913 Adolphe Pégoud did the first inverted flight, and Russian Army pilot Petr Nesterov did the first loop. Nesterov was first arrested for risking Army property, but was later promoted to Captain and became an international hero.
By the end of World War I in 1918 the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, along with his friends and his enemies, were doing a full suite of aerobatic maneuvers in much improved airplanes. The winner of a dogfight got a higher score of kills and was allowed to continue living. Thankfully, a less lethal measure of pilot excellence came about after the war.
In America aerobatics were normally performed as a spectacle along with air races in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Army pilots Jimmy Doolittle, along with Flying Tigers founder Claire Chennault and his “Three Men of the Flying Trapeze,” became quite famous for aerobatics in that era.
It was in Europe that aerobatics were set up as a competitive Olympic-style competition. Both Germany and France developed mathematical judging systems in 1928. 1934 saw the first real world competition, with 2 pilots losing their lives in contest. World aerobatic competitions were held throughout the 1930’s, most famously in Berlin together with the 1936 Olympics, until World War II intervened in 1939.
After World War II aerobatics in America suffered a serious body blow. A pilot who had a tenuous connection to the airshow crashed into the crowd in Flagler, Colorado in 1951 while performing an aerobatic maneuver. 20 people were killed, some of them children, with another 50 injured. This event stopped US national competitions and limited most non-military airshows until the early 1960’s.
The opposite occurred in Europe, where many competitions started up in the 1950’s, the most prestigious of which was the Lockheed Trophy competition in Britain.
The Lockheed Trophy contest, along with similar competitions in the 1950’s, were judged more on artistic impression than on precision. Modern aerobatic contests are more like the pre-World War II European contests, where the precision flying of standard maneuvers is the judging standard. Since airplanes were becoming more and more capable a standard “language” had to be created. The first post-war system used internationally was that from Francois d’Huc Dressler. Dressler died in 1957. His system was used from 1955 to 1962.
Starting in 1964, and continuing to this day, the FAI adapted the “Sistema Aresti” for judging world competitions. It is now just called the Aresti system and it was developed by Spanish Air Force Col. Jose Luis Aresti. It is very precise mathematically as well as geometrically.
The unofficial 2-track aerobatic system, where competition is judged by very rigid mathematical standards and airshow-type flying is judged more on artistry, is now in place worldwide. The bridge between the two is the 4 minute Freestyle, otherwise known as the Final Freestyle. The regular Known, Free Program, and Unknown sequences are judged by the Aresti standard. The 4 minute Freestyle, on the other hand, is judged on a more artistic basis, similar to the old Lockheed Trophy contests. Tumbling maneuvers like the Lomcovak are allowed in the 4 minute Freestyle, as is smoke. The 4 minute Freestyle also has its own winner and its own trophy.
Speaking of trophies, starting in 1964 the individual winner of the world competition is presented with the Aresti Cup. Donated by Col. Aresti, it is covered with gold and silver accents. The trophy is a work of art as well as being the top award.
The winning men’s team in the world aerobatic championship is presented with the Nesterov Cup. It was donated by Russia to the FAI in 1962 and named for Russian aerobatic hero Petr Nesterov.
The winner of the 4 Minute Freestyle sequence is presented with the Manfred Stroessenreuther Cup. Named for the late German aerobatic champion who excelled at this event, it was donated by the South African Aero Club through the Deutscher Aero Club.
A separate women’s championship was started in 1966, and since 1986 its winner has been presented with the Royal Aero Club Trophy.
The first postwar, modern-format World Championship (and the first to be sanctioned by the FAI) was held in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia in 1960. The first World Aerobatic Champion was a Czechoslovak pilot, Ladislav Bezak, flying a Zlin 226T. The rest of the Czech team was close behind in Zlin 226A’s. The aircraft were well flown by the Czechs, who won the Nesterov Cup for 1960, 1964, and 1978, and won the Aresti Cup in 1960, 1978, 1984, and 1986. They were definitely a force to be reckoned with.
The Zlins were a world-beating advance in aerobatic technology, capable of many new maneuvers, especially in the vertical. The Zlin 226’s, 326’s, 526’s, and Zlin 50’s battled with the Russian Yak 18’s and Yak 50’s to be the winning airplanes on the world stage from 1960 until the 1990’s. The only real interruption in this battle was when the Pitts S-1S’s won in the 1970’s. The rise of the Sukhoi’s, the Extra’s, and the CAP’s came in the 1990’s.
In 1960 Ladislav Bezak was the first pilot use the ”Lomcovak” maneuver in a world event, although other pilots had been developing the maneuver in the mid 50′s and flown it for the Lockheed Trophy. It is not in the Aresti catalog but does get flown in the 4-Minute Freestyle.
In an article, Bezak wrote in regards to the name of the maneuver, “I am afraid my own sister is responsible for this one, but I must say I rather like it.” “…My sister, a nice and gentle lady, but who does not know anything about flying, and who does not speak the Moravian dialect at all (Lomcovak is a purely Moravian word), repeated what she thought she had heard and Voila! The name is variously translated as ‘log in the head,’ ‘headache,’ or ‘look at that drunk trying to walk,’ depending on which Czech you talk to.”
The Americans were the poor stepchildren when it came to the world aerobatic stage in this era. Below is a photograph of American Frank Price standing alone (left), but proud, behind the American flag at Bratislava in 1960. The foreign national teams had been practicing daily for years. Frank had flown airshows between crop dusting gigs.
Frank got to Bratislava on his own at considerable personal expense. He flew his aircraft, a Great Lakes biplane, to the east coast from Texas, took it apart, and put it on a Pan Am transport. Once across the Atlantic he put the airplane back together and then flew it to Bratislava.
He was flying behind the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War. Afterward, he did not have the money to get his airplane home. Seven months later he was able to get his Great Lakes home. It’s impossible to look at that photo and not feel a sense of gratitude for Frank’s determination to make the USA a part of the World Aerobatic Championships from the very beginning.
Frank Price brought back valuable information on the advanced state of aerobatics in Europe and the USSR. They were far ahead of America in that regard. He also brought back the Lomcovak and the beginnings of the Aresti system. Most important of all, he formed an aerobatics club based on the British Tiger Club to promote and organize aerobatics in the United States. It was called the American Tiger Club. Later, the EAA formed the Precision Flying Division, and the Aerobatic Club of America was formed. The first American to win the World Championship, Charlie Hillard, was an alumni of all of these organizations.
Frank Price also went to Hollywood. In the Robert Redford picture “The Great Waldo Pepper” Frank did the aerobatic flying for the fictional German Ace “Ernst Kessler” as well as some of the Jenny flying.
The 1962 was the year of the Hungarians. The contest was held in Budapest, Hungary. The winner of the Aresti Cup was Hungarian Josef Toth in a Zlin 226T, and the Nesterov Cup was won by the Hungarian team. The US team consisted of Duane Cole, Lindsey Parsons, and Rod Jocelyn. Lindsey Parsons flew very well and placed 5th against a number of Zlin and Yak monoplanes while flying the 1930’s-designed Great Lakes. The others also did reasonably well in their older designs, but it was clear it would be a while before the Americans were competitive.
In 1964 the contest was held in Bilbao, Spain, and Spaniard Tomas Castano won the Aresti Cup in a Zlin 226T. Bezak and his team were back to win the Nesterov Cup for Czechoslovakia again.
1966 is where we begin to see the rise of the Russian Yak 18, which is a derivative of a military trainer. The contest was held in Moscow, USSR. The winner of the Aresti Cup was Russian Vladimir Martemianov, flying a Yak 18M. The Nesterov Cup went to the Russian team.
1966 is also the first year we see a female world championship, won this year by Russian pilot Galina Kortschuganova. On the left side of the Atlantic the first Pitts S-1S’s were now being flown, most notably by Bob Herendeen, Mary Gaffaney, and Gene Soucy.
1968 closed out the decade with another home team win. The contest is held in Magdeburg, East Germany, and the Aresti Cup went to East German Erwin Blaeske flying a Zlin 526A. The Nesterov Cup went to the East German team. The women’s world championship was won by Madelyne Delcroix of France.
The second decade of the modern WAC opened in 1970 at Hullavington, England, with Soviet pilot Igor Egorov winning the Aresti Cup. Charile Hillard placed 3rd overall. The Americans were up and coming. The IAC was also in its formative stages at this point.
The United States team of Bob Herendeen, Charlie Hillard and Gene Soucy took the Nesterov Cup. Many think that but for an engine failure Bob Herendeen would have been world champion in 1970. By now the Pitts Special S-1S had become the de facto American team airplane, and its unusual performance was having its effect on the WAC.
In 1972, in Salon de Provence, France, the Americans dominated WAC. Charlie Hillard became the first American to become World Champion. Hillard, with his teammates Gene Soucy and Tom Poberezny took the Nesterov Cup for America for the second time. The US team included Hillard, Soucy, Poberezny, Art Scholl, Bill Thomas, Mary Gaffaney, and Carolyn Salisbury. Mary Gaffaney won Gold Medals in her first two flights and became the first American to win the Women’s World Aerobatic Championship, as well as placing fifth overall.
The 1974 WAC was cancelled for political reasons. In 1976, the WAC was held in Kiev, USSR and the Soviets responded to the Pitts with the introduction of the Yak 50. Unfortunately, 1976 is the year remembered primarily for Cold War judging controversy, with everything going heavily in the Russians favor. It got so bad that the world community voted in the Tarasov-Bauer statistical scoring programs to identify and ameliorate judging bias. The Tarasov-Bauer system was voted in for the 1978 WAC.
In 1978, the WAC went to Ceske Budejovice, Czechoslovakia, and Czech pilot Ivan Tucek took the Aresti Cup in a Zlin 50. The Zlin 50 was beginning its time as one of the top aircraft, winning again in 1985 and 1986. Kermit Weeks of the U.S. took second in the Weeks Special, a derivative of the Pitts. The Nesterov Cup was won by the Czech team. The Soviets dominated the Women’s division in the Yak 50, with Valentina Yaikova winning the top spot.
In 1980 the World Aerobatic Championship came to America for the first time. The site was Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the contest was boycotted by the Soviet Team and their east European allies.
Leo Loudenslager became the second American to become the World Champion. Leo also introduced his Laser 200 midwing monoplane, whose influence can still be seen in the Extra design series. His teammates Henry Haigh and Kermit Weeks completed a U. S. sweep of the top three spots and won the Nesterov Cup. Betty Stewart won her first women’s World Championship title.
The 1982 WAC was held in Spitzerberg, Austria. Soviet pilot Victor Smolin won the Aresti Cup in a Yak 50. The Nesterov Cup was won by the Soviet team. America’s Betty Stewart again won the Women’s championship.
In 1984 WAC XII was held in Békéscsaba, Hungary. Czech pilot Petr Jirmus took first and West German Manfred Strossenreuther, for whom the Manfred Strossenreuther Cup is named, took second. They were both flying the Zlin 50. Soviet women’s pilots Khalide Makagonova and Liubov Nemkova took first and second in the Women’s championship, flying the new Yak 55. Debby Rihn-Harvey took third in a Pitts S1-S. WAC XII saw the introduction of the SukhoiSu 26. The United States Men’s team of Kermit Weeks, Henry Haigh, and Alan Bush took home the Nesterov Cup for the fourth time.
In 1986, WAC XIII was held in South Cerney, England, where the weather was a factor. Petr Jirmus of Czechoslovakia repeated his Individual Men’s title, and did it in a Zlin 50LS. The Nesterov Cup was won by the Soviet team of Victor Smolin, Nikolai Nikitiuk, and Sergei Boriak. Sergei Boriak later moved to the USA and became a sought after aerobatic coach.
Linda Meyers-Morrissey won a gold medal in the Unknown in a beautiful flight following a mistake in the Free Program. 1986 was also the first year that the Woman’s World Aerobatic Champion was presented with the Royal Aero Club Trophy. Liubov Nemkova of the USSR was the winner.
1988 was another great year for the US team. In addition, the WAC had returned to the North American Continent for the second time and was held in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. The United States team did well, with Henry Haigh finally winning the long pursued Aresti Cup. He had an excellent Unknown flight in his personally designed Super Star monoplane. America now had 3 world champions. The U.S. Men’s team of Haigh, Kermit Weeks and Clint McHenry took the Nesterov Cup. Patrick Paris of France, who we will hear more of, won the 4 Minute Free in a CAP 231.
The winner of the Royal Aero Club Trophy was Catherine Maunoury of France. In the first ever awarding of the FAI Challenge Cup, newcomer Ellen Dean joined Linda Meyers-Morrissey and Patty Wagstaff to take the Women’s Team trophy.
Even though the US had a good year the development of the Russian Sukhoi, the French CAP 231, and the Extra 300 clearly indicated Europe was progressing beyond the capabilities of the 200 horsepower airplane.
The fourth decade of World Aerobatics seemed to only come in two flavors, French or Russian. At this point the Russians are Russians, not Soviets. Here is where we see the domination of the French CAP 231/232’s and the Russian Su 26/Su 31’s, which continued well into the 2000’s. This state of affairs held for both the Aresti Cup results and those of the Nesterov Cup. In this era we also see the rise and domination of Russian ballerina Svetlana Kapanina in the Sukhoi, who won the women’s championship 6 times.
The 1990 WAC was in Yverdon, Switzerland in 1990. The French won, with Claude “Coco” Bessiere, the well-liked Frenchman, taking the Aresti Cup in a CAP 231. The French team won the Nesterov Cup. Linda Meyers-Morrissey took second in her new CAP 231 to Natalya Sergeeva of the Soviet Union in aSukhoi Su 26.
In 1992 the competition was held in Le Havre, France, but could not be completed due to bad weather. The 1994 WAC was held in Debrecen, Hungary. Xaviar deLapparent took the Aresti Cup for France, and the French team won the Nesterov Cup. Patty Wagstaff took second in the Women’s championship for the USA behind Christine Genin of France, and the French won the women’s team championship.
The 1996 WAC was held in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, but it was an all Russian show. Victor Chmal of Russia won the Aresti Cup in his Su 26. The Nesterov Cup was won by the Russian team that included Nikolai Timofeev. Nikolai Timofeev now lives in Florida, is a sought after aerobatic coach, and is on the 2013 USA Unlimited Team. Svetlana Kapanina won the Royal Aero Club Trophy, and Russia also won the women’s championship team trophy.
The 1998 WAC was held in Trencin, Slovakia, and was split by the French and the Russians. It was Patrick Paris in his CAP 232 that won the Aresti Trophy. The Nesterov Cup was won by the Russian team again. Svetlana Kapanina won the Royal Aero Club Trophy as the top female finisher, and the Russian women’s team also won. The winner of the 4 Minute Free was Dominique Roland of France in another CAP 232.
In the 2000’s the Nesterov Cup was still being passed back and forth between the French and the Russians, but the Aresti Cup got to see people from other countries, and we began to see the Extra 330’s and the occasional MXS. Also, starting in 2001 the WAC changed to be held in odd years. The World Advanced Aerobatic Championship, or WAAC, is now held in even years.
At the 2000 WAC held in Muret, France. Most of the top 10 finishers would be on the French team in CAP 232′s. Eric Vazeille wins the Aresti Cup, and the French team won the Nesterov Cup. The Women’s champion was Catherine Maunoury, but the women’s team trophy is won by the Russians.
2001 saw the WAC in Burgos, Spain. Mikhail Mamistov of Russia wins the Aresti Cup in the Su 31, and the Russian team won the Nesterov Cup. Of course, Svetlana Kapanina wins the women’s championship. The only non-Russian result is the 4 Minute Free, which is won by Klaus Schrodt of Germany in an Extra 330 XS.
The 2003 WAC comes back to North America. It is held at the Sun-N-Fun facility in Lakeland, Florida. The Aresti Cup is won by Sergey Rakhmanin of Russia in an Su 31, and the Russian team won the Nesterov Cup. Svetlana again wins the Royal Aero Club Trophy for the 4th time.
In 2003 the competitors and volunteers had a good time at Busch Gardens during the down time, and the volunteers were hosted by Kermit Weeks at his new Fantasy of Flight facility up the road in Polk City, Florida.
The 2005 WAC was again held in Burgos, Spain, and was a repeat of 2003. Russian champion Sergey Rakhmanin of Russia, flying an Su 26M, won the Aresti Cup. The Russian team won the Nesterov Cup. Svetlana again wins the Royal Aero Club Trophy for now the 5th time. Like 2001 the only non-Russian result is the 4 Minute Free, which is again won by Klaus Schrodt of Germany in an Extra 330 XS.
2007 shows a break in the Russian domination. The WAC is held in Granada, Spain, and the Aresti Cup is won by Ramon Alonso of Spain in an Su 31. Hooray for the hometown boy, eh? The Nesterov cup is won by the French team. The US gets a top result when the 4 Minute Free is won by Zach Heffley in an Su 26. Svetlana Kapanina wins the Royal Aero Club Trophy for the 6th time.
The 2009 WAC was held at Silverstone in the UK and was a sad one for the US Team. US WAC team member and 2007 US Unlimited National Champion Vicki Cruise was killed while flying the contest in a borrowed Edge 540 aircraft.
2009 was a mostly French show. Renaud Ecalle won the Aresti Cup in an Extra 330SC, and the French team won the Nesterov Cup. Renaud Ecalle also won the 4 Minute Free, again flying the Extra. Russian Elena Klimovich won the women’s championship.
The 2011 WAC is held in Foligno, Italy. The Russians are back with a vengeance, but it is good to see American Rob Holland as the winner of the 4 Minute Free flying the MXS. 2001 Aresti Cup winner, Russian Mikhail Mamistov, comes back to win the Aresti Cup a second time. The Russian team wins the Nesterov Cup.
Since the 2013 World Aerobatic Championship is being held at the site that already hosts the US National Championships the infrastructure for planes and pilots is already in place. It will be held in October so there will be an escape from the mid-summer heat.
It already looks like the WAC will be a well attended event, with pilots from many different countries already committed to come, in spite of that ocean-thing being in the way. The volunteer rolls are filling up nicely, but we can always use some more.
Many who have attended these world events over the years have commented on how much fun it was meeting people from all these different countries. Since everyone is in aviation there is a common meeting ground. Frank Price said he found that even though governments may be different people are the same, and you can get a long way with a smile. The WAC doesn’t come to North America that often, so if you can come meet some of your aviation brothers and sisters. You’ll be glad you did!