Hungary comes out top: Watching Ferenc Toth take gold

Ferenc podium WGAC2016“I think it was enough,” said Ferenc Toth as he stepped out of the glider after his final competition flight at the FAI World Glider Aerobatic Championships in Hungary, on Friday 29 July 2016.

The Hungarian pilot and defending World Champion had been leading all week. The favourite for days, he looked visibly relieved after his flight as he rolled to a stop in his glider and was congratulated by his team mates.

“It was the last competition flight so I was a bit nervous, but my friends told me it was ok,” he said.

The final day of the competition got off to a slow start at Matko Airport, south east of Budapest in Hungary. The final round of the competition would take place in the afternoon, it was announced, giving pilots time to relax and enjoy the better weather.

WGAC2016 podium teamWhile the first week of the competition had seen good flying conditions, the last few days had seen some cloud overdevelopment and occasional rain. It had slowed the pace of the championship, meaning only five, not the planned six, competition flights could be run.

With 20 pilots in the Unlimited Class, the highest and most elite category, and 39 in the Advanced Class, a lower category, running a Glider Aerobatic World Championships is no small feat. Four tug planes, a host of volunteers, and well-coordinated organisation was all necessary.

A well-oiled machine maybe, but out on the field pilots and organisers still sweated it out as the temperature in the shade hit 30C. On the grass it was baking. Pilots and crew sat in the shade of the gliders, while others perched under umbrellas or against vehicles.

“Two minute delay!” called a voice from the judges’ tent as one pilot prepared to tow into the air. He stood down, quietly baking under the sun, cumulus clouds growing large on the horizon.

Next in line, Toth wore a green and black bandana to stay cool and dry, sitting with his glass cockpit canopy open until the last minute. When it was finally his turn to fly, a small Piper Pawny tug plane rolled up, its propeller sending a cooling breeze behind it. Like a wheelbarrow with wings its job is to tow the glider into the air to a height of 1,250m above the ground, releasing the glider into the aerobatic zone.

Crunching his fists in black fingerless gloves Toth made last-minute adjustments to his harness with the help of three members of his team. His parachute handle glinted silver in the sun, the canopy was closed and then was he off, into the sky.

On the ground, the youngest competitor was not happy with how his programme had gone. Jan Makula, 22, “wasn’t satisfied”. “The figures were ok, but I went out of the box.” That meant a serious penalty.

Would it affect the rankings? “Not really.” His dad, Jerzy Makula, the grandfather of the sport of glider aerobatics and a multiple world champion, gave him a pat on the arm. It’s ok, it seemed to suggest, there is plenty of time.

4gliders WGAC2016

In the air, Toth was executing his programme with the discipline, exactness and flair he is known for. Three minutes after he had started, it was over and he was on the ground, rolling in his glider back towards the small encampment of the world’s best international glider aerobatics pilots.

His T-shirt soaked in sweat he smiled and looked relieved. “I saw some minor mistakes in the programme,” he told a camera crew, “but I think it was enough”.

As pilots continued to queue to fly – “I’m 19th in line to fly” explained US pilot Eric Lentz-Gauthier as he sat in the shade near the airfield clubhouse – Toth was already heading off for a quiet celebration with team mates. Winning this title makes it three World Championships in his career, to add to three European Championships and a dozen other gold medals. His place in the history of the sport is secure.

With Hungary coming out top team as well, the only thing left for the local heroes to do was to pack their gliders away – and then celebrate with the rest of the pilots.

Rivals in the air, friends on the ground, the most important competition in the Glider Aerobatic competition calendar finished with good humour, congratulations and the promise of a party later on.

Home nation Hungary was on top, Ferenc Toth was World Champion adn the competition had been conducted safely and fairly. As the heat of the day started to cool, and the final pilots rolled to a stop, the 19th FAI World Glider Aerobatic Championships came to a close


Ferenc Toth finished the competition with 8578.09 points – a strong margin of  297 points ahead of second placed Janos Szilagyi, Toth’s Hungarian team  mate. In third position picking up the Bronze medal was Poland’s Jerzy  Makula – the ‘grandfather’ of Glider Aerobatics.

In  the teams, Hungary scored 24605.15 points, more than 2300 points ahead of  second-placed France. Germany won Bronze. 

The battle for silver was tight-run, with third-placed Germany only  137 points behind. With 24,000 points on the table, it was a wafer-thin margin.

The competition in Hungary was the  19th FAI World Glider Aerobatic Championships to be held, and attracted  20 of the world’s best glider aerobatic pilots.

1. Ferenc Toth (HU), 8,578.09
2. Janos Szilagyi (HU), 8,281.92
3. Jerzy Makula (PL), 7,902.39

1. Hungary, 24,605.15
2. France, 22,277.76
3. Germany, 22,140.18

Individual results: http://bit.ly/2aE5lbX
Team results: http://bit.ly/2a5p6eN
Pictures: http://bit.ly/2alfvz1
Videos: http://bit.ly/2anQ4NM


Photo credit: FAI / Mika Ganszauge