A Pentathlon For Pilots


Military pilots need lots of skills besides just flying the airplane — for example, if shot down in enemy territory, it’s handy to be ready to shoot, run over obstacles, swim, and find your way with a map and compass — and the aeronautical pentathlon, which was held last month in Brazil, tests all of those skills. Fewer than 100 pilots worldwide compete in the elite sport. The pentathlon also includes a flying contest, in which the competitors act as navigator and fly a course over five checkpoints, trying for the best time and distance. Five Embraer Super Tucano airplanes were used at this year’s event. The Brazilian team won, beating the often-victorious Finns. The U.S. did not compete.

The event, which dates back to the post-World War II era, is held every year at the World Military Games. It also includes competition in fencing and basketball, which may seem less useful to today’s pilots, but according to the Wall Street Journal, “basketball dribbling and shooting require the hand-eye coordination crucial to flying a plane [and] fencing represents combat.” All together, these tasks round out the pentathlon to a full seven competitions. When asked why the pentathlon has more than five events, “its organizers shrug,” says the Journal.