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Glide Path: On Top of the World with Engineer Łukasz Grabowski

August 28, 2018
Gliding has been Łukasz Grabowski’s passion since he was 16 year old. An engineer at GE Aviation’s Engineering Design Center in Poland, he began participating in various gliding competitions, where unpowered aircraft use naturally occurring currents of rising air to stay airborne. Now a member of the Polish national team, he represents Poland at different gliding events all around the world.

This summer, Grabowski won 2nd place in the 15-meter class glider competition at the 35th FAI World Gliding Championships (WGC). The competition was held in Ostrów Wielkopolski. We sat down with Łukasz about his passion, success and gliding itself.

Bike Shop: First up, congratulations! Tell us, how you combine working full-time job with gliding at the world’s highest level?
ŁG: Gliding is the sport that you don’t have to spend eight hours each day at the gym. I fly on weekends and have longer trainings from time to time during my days off. Fortunately, that’s enough to keep my skills up high enough to start in the top competitions.

Bike Shop: Gliding looks like a sport that requires versatile skills. What is important to be good at it?
ŁG: Purity of pilotage is vital, the same as the ability to choose the optimal route of the flight. There is also some technical knowledge, along with recognition of meteorology and terrain conditions. What’s more, resistance to stress plays a big role.

Bike Shop: When you are in the air, what exactly is your task. What is the competition about?
ŁG: The gliding contest is a type of racing. Depending on the weather conditions, we start in two disciplines. Typically, in good conditions the task is to fly from point to point in the shortest possible time. In the days with worse weather we are given a specific time and areas, for example, in four hours we need to fly the greatest distance “visiting” all given areas. The routes are always defined such that the finish point is the airfield where we take off from.

Bike Shop: The WGC took 14 days. The weather allowed you to compete for 7 of those, from the early morning to the late evening. Do you have to be focused during all of that time? It seems like a very mentally tiring sport. 

ŁG: It is in fact. My competition day lasts approximately 13 hours, and after that what I want to do the most is just go to sleep. But from the early morning until the late afternoon I need to observe the weather, the terrain and watch out for other gliders that are next to me. Not to mention choosing the best route. It’s quite tiring, even more so when it lasts a few days in a row.

Engineer Łukasz Grabowski with his glider plane. Cover photo taken by Sebastian Kawa.


Bike Shop: Are sunny days are the best for gliding?
ŁG: Yes. Most people think that the wind is the most important parameter in gliding. And in fact, it doesn’t really matter if it’s windy or not, as long as we’re not flying above mountains. What is vital is the sun, and the characteristics of the air mass. When we glide, we are using the thermal updrafts, where the rising air is taking the glider up. When the sun is shining, there are more updrafts, so it’s possible to fly longer and further. Without them it’s hard to fly for a long time as the glider is just descending. And what happens then is that sometimes we need to land in the middle of nowhere.

Bike Shop: Does it happen very often that you have to land somewhere unplanned?
ŁG: From time to time. Especially during the competition, when we are all trying to complete the same planned route. In Ostrów one race was finished properly by only two participants. The rest didn’t make it, including me. I landed in the field, somewhere between some cabbage and broccoli.

Bike Shop: Wow! And you managed to get to the podium even with that – amazing!
ŁG: Thank you. In fact, the weather changed in the places where we needed to fly. That’s why this race finished that way. But with all of us having problems, it was still possible to get to the highest positions.

Grabowski (on right) with Sebastian Kawa (the gold medalist) with their trophies in the 15-meter class glider competition at the 35th FAI World Gliding Championships (WGC). Photo by Łukasz Grabowski.

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