Top Racers Head To New Zealand

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A total of 18 of the world’s best pilots will meet in New Zealand later this month to compete in races through mountainous courses up to 200 miles long, reaching speeds of up to 200 mph, sometimes flying only a few feet above the ground. Imagine what they could do if they had engines. The FAI World Gran Prix Gliding Championships return to Omarama, N.Z., Dec. 19 for six days of head-to-head action in the fastest free-flying aircraft in the world. And you can fly along via cockpit cameras feeding live streaming video during the finals. "Commentary and real-time graphics footage are available on each day of the championships," says an event news release. "On finals day, 24 December, full broadcast featuring in-cockpit mini-cams and air-to-air footage using the latest TV filming technologies will be available." The field of 18 is a record for the event and the top glider racer in the world, Sebastian Kawa, of Poland, is taking part. Racers launch from Omarama and fly a prescribed course to up to six turn points, which are one kilometer (.6 mile) cylinders over geographical points. A sealed GPS recorder on board each glider records whether competitors make the required turns. The amount of airspace required for such races is enormous and organizers say that’s what makes Omarama so popular for the sport. "There are relatively few places in the world where you have the freedom in the sky for multiple gliders to race; this is quite unique with air travel becoming more popular. This allows for more challenging courses to be set and really test the pilots’ abilities. There will definitely be some nail biting action on display for all spectators," said Bob Henderson, president of the International Gliding Commission.