2023 Oct.

A Season with Jon Gatfield

Jon's 2023 from a competition perspective

The name Jon Gatfield will mean something to many of you. The tall, friendly Brit is an AS 33 customer from the very beginning and a Schleicher fan through and through. We thought it would be perfect to review the season aboard the “YO” for you and give you a little insight into the competition season from the perspective of a passionate competition pilot:

“2023 is the 3rd season for my AS33Es callsign “YO” and, as in previous years, I left the UK at the start of April in search of good soaring weather. I am lucky enough to be semi-retired and able to fly pretty much all summer. This year I particularly wanted to maximise my flying while I still can and before I lose my medical license!

I travel with a motorhome and monkeybike for easy ground handling, and an extremely understanding wife who travels home to the UK from time to time for “respite care”. This year we started in Serres in the French Alps before moving to Varese, just North of Milan. At Varese I flew the “Stage Alta Performanzia” – a superb training event that was blessed with very good weather. The highlight for me was a declared 1000kms in thermals (no wind) at 113kph.

It was then back to Serres for plenty of good soaring including an exceptional day on 9th July that allowed a flight up past the Matterhorn, on over the Furkapass to the East and a return via Chamonix. The AS33 cockpit is so comfortable that after the 8 hour flight it was no problem to fly another 6 hours the next day.

At the end of July I made the annual pilgrimage to the Italian Appenines, first to the inaugural “Trofeo de L’Aquila”. This airfield is right next to the Gran Sasso range and enabled some exciting ridge tasks North to Monte Cucco and South to the Maella mountain – some at 148kph. I flew this competition in 15M mode and really enjoyed the AS33 agility and performance in this configuration. 2nd place overall was a nice result.

Next was Rieti – the ultimate location for sailplane racing! There are two competitions here, the Mediterranean Cup (5th overall for me), and the Coppa Cita da Rieti (2nd overall). The weather was not typical this year, with a NE wind and lower cloudbases than usual, but we still enjoyed some powerful convergences and 3,200M cloudbases at times. Across the 5 weeks spent in the Appenines we lost just 2 days to weather – incredible. Rieti has everything: great weather, great organization, great food, great people, and is a very welcoming, friendly event. This was my 10th year and I wouldn’t miss it.

Lastly, but by no means least, was the Sailplane Grand Prix final in Pavullo near Modena, Italy. Pavullo is a beautiful airfield and the organization was absolutely flawless, which made for a really great competition. The terrain around Pavullo is challenging with few outlanding fields, and the weather was a little frustrating to start with, but we had 2 fantastic practice days and 4 competition days. SGP is my favourite format and has taken me to some venues I never would otherwise have visited: Bosnia, Chile and Pavullo for example. The competition at Pavullo was fiercely intense with many outstanding pilots and it was a fabulous experience flying against these guys. The first two tasks were very short so even one wrong turn was severely punished. The spectacle of 19 racers leaving the start line en masse was exhilarating as were the first few gaggle climbs each day. The last day saw a real shake up in the rankings, but for me the 3.5 m/s climb to 2,200m and onto final glide was a wonderful way to finish a truly superb summer.

Dear Jon, we thank you very much for the insights into your 2023 season and wish you all the best for the future!