October 23, 2013
By Jim Moore
American aerobatic pilots flew on home turf for the first time in a decade, and came away with silver and gold at the twenty-seventh Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Aerobatic Championships.
American men and women both posted second-place team finishes at the rain-dampened contest held Oct. 9 through 20 at North Texas Regional/Perrin Field near Sherman, Texas. Though delayed for days by lousy weather, the threat that the contest would be curtailed lifted at last, allowing airshow circuit mainstay Rob Holland to repeat his four-minute freestyle championship effort (Holland won that event, a contest separate from the freestyle component of the overall championship, at the previous championships held in Italy in 2011).
While noting that contest flying for judges is different from airshow performing in many respects, Holland said the line blurs a little when it comes to the four-minute freestyle, which allows pilots to deviate from the rigidly prescribed maneuvers of international aerobatics and get creative.
“I’m inspired by a lot of people who fly airshows,” Holland said in a telephone interview with AOPA Online. “But I’m trying to not be like any of them. I think that carries over to the four-minute free: I’m showing the judges things they haven’t seen before.”
Holland was also the top U.S. pilot in the men’s overall competition, finishing fifth. An overall championship claimed by François Le Vot and a fourth-place performance by Olivier Masurel propelled the French to team gold on the men’s side, while their countrywomen claimed gold in the women’s team standings—finishing just ahead of U.S. pilots Melissa Pemberton and Debby Rihn-Harvey, who took silver. Full contest results are available here.
“Three of the top pilots were French military pilots, and their military job is to practice and fly aerobatics,” Holland said. “That’s pretty tough to compete against.”
Holland, who noted that French or Russian teams have won every world championship since the last U.S. team victory in 1988, also noted that the Russians finished third in 2013. Holland plans to make another run with the U.S. team in 2015, and will continue international competition “as long as it’s fun,” noting that friendships forged across international borders are much of the draw.
The strength of the 2013 results suggest American pilots might be on the verge of breaking back to the top.
“I think we have a pretty strong team,” Holland agreed.
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