WINNING II Review by John Joss

By George B. Moffat
Knauff and Grove, Inc.
ISBN 0-9704254-4-9
250pp, maps, charts, 22 b/w photos, appendices, no index.

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Anyone aspiring to excellence in soaring, in these times of intense competition and galloping technology, has a long and arduous road ahead. There can only be one winner in any specific contest, locale and class, from regional to national to world.

The budding competition pilot can learn from previous winners by competing with them, seeing what they do, how they do it, what choices, decisions and mistakes they make, what struggles they endure, what problems they solve, what mountains they climb. He or she can also learn via reading, if past winners have written competently. In fact, not learning the masters’ methods will almost certainly lead to failure. There are no short cuts to the podium.

George Moffat is a double world soaring champion (Open Class, 1970 and 1974), a frequent national champion and among the most skilled, experienced and courageous sailplane pilots. Better still, he is a writer of formidable power and purpose. When he ‘speaks,’ we must pay attention. We ignore him at—literally—our peril.

His first book, WINNING On The Wind (1975), traced his early soaring and contest flying from the era of ‘sticks and glue’ gliders (Ka-6, Standard Austria, Elfe), to his triumphs with the early Nimbus composite bird crafted by a young genius, Klaus Holighaus, and beyond. Comprised primarily of his past articles in SOARING, the book revealed the principles by which pilots learn to fly better, faster, safer and more competitively. You didn’t have to be a contest pilot, a glider pilot or even a pilot to enjoy it. The writing alone was worth the reader’s time.

Now Moffat has done it again, updating his masterwork into a new book no pilot—competition or pleasure—can afford to ignore. Everything he writes has both competition purpose and everyday flying value. In fact, as Moffat has observed, every flight should be used to improve one’s skills, without which it is merely lollygaggin’ about in the sky, as the late, great soaring writer and pilot Gren Seibels might have put it, Southern drawl and all, and probably did.

The book, with typically whimsical but insightful introduction by Michael (‘Platypus’) Bird, is divided usefully into sections similar to the original, from ‘Changes in Competitive Soaring,’ to ‘Contest Flying Techniques’ to a series of compelling ‘Soaring Stories.’

Moffat’s summary of ‘Changes’ enables the reader to climb ahead at redline (yes, it can be done —e.g. in the Sierra, in wave, and it can even be hard to get down safely) through the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and Nineties into the 21st century, in a summary that is as informative as it is economical, and candid as only Moffat can be.

Unlike WOTW, WII contains no formal pireps but includes handling comments. He is, if anything, kind to the pitch-sensitive early Ventus and traces ship evolution insightfully since the difficult first Nimbus (lethargic roll rate, savage yaw); but he does not note the ASW-20’s ‘double-bottomed’ polar that can lead an unsuspecting pilot into danger from incipient spins.

His section on ‘Contest Flying’ includes four chapters from the original book but expands the subject in depth, with ten additional chapters. It covers in meticulous detail essentially every aspect of contest preparation from pilot psychology to podium pride: low-loss flying, practicing, thermal entry and departure techniques, attitudes and safety. He saves special and deserved scorn for that loathsome form of soaring dishonesty: contest leeches (may they land out in severe sink).

‘Soaring Stories (and soaring people)’ provides endless enjoyment. Crews/soaring wives/airport widows should read this section first. George’s curiosity and intellect shine, with anecdotal material that will amuse and inspire the hardest heart. He talks about many of the great soaring men and women and interesting places he has flown, including California, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. His material on working with Dick Brandt to improve the Nimbus 3 (attaining a measured 62.5 L/D, exceeded in history only by Hans Werner Grosse’s ETA), is absorbing—Moffat works as well with his hands as with his mind. Read between the lines, too, for a continuing primer on soaring’s essentials.

There is poignancy here, since so many of the greats about whom he writes have been lost to soaring—Reichmann, Holighaus. Moffat’s eulogy to Robbie Robertson, for example, is striking, in that he describes the qualities that can take a pilot to the top in six contest years. He reveals individuals of remarkable personal power, typical of soaring, leading one inevitably to the conclusion that habits create character and character determines destiny.

Moffat cuts to the heart of the matter, page after page. One longs for the next WII edition, in which more ‘Infamous Last Words’ (which close both the original and WII) can be extracted and used to inform, amuse or punish the reader. Bias declared: little in my flying life of 50+ years compares with the day spent in the cockpit with him at Minden (“Travels with George,” SOARING, 1987). The tough part: noting his skills, honed over thousands of hours, so evident despite their seemingly effortless minimalism. One lands back humbled. It’s the same with his writing—the genius pilot is also a masterful literary stylist. How does he do it? The same way one gets to Carnegie Hall—“practice, man, practice.” It only looks easy. Trust me.

Moffat has updated every chapter in his new book to October, 2004, but it will be many more years before anyone writes with equal clarity about our marvelous, difficult, frustrating but inspiring sport and art. This is Lincoln Award material, earned the hard way: work.

Winning, Moffat writes, comes out of energy. What a coincidence, since extracting energy from nature is the essence of soaring.

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John Joss, an SSA Life Member and soaring pilot since 1951, published a series of books about soaring in the ’70s, including Moffat’s WINNING ON THE WIND, plus ADVANCED SOARING, SOARAMERICA, SOARSIERRA and the novel SIERRA SIERRA, for which he won the Lincoln Award. He has contributed national contest reports and articles to SOARING since the 1970s.