WAAC 2023, Las Vegas, 24.10. – 04.11.2023

Guillaume Jacquet, Markus Rüesch and Romain Fahl, Jean Airport, Las Vegas (USA), October 2023



We are already back for more than one month from this year’s World Advance Aerobatic Championships (WAAC) in Las Vegas but the excitement and the feeling of having done something unique still linger on.

At the end of the competition the Swiss Team finished 37th (Markus) and 39th (Guillaume) overall in a field of 60 Pilots (49 ranked, 6 independent H/C, 2 disqualified and 3 who withdrew before flying began) from all 5 continents. It was the largest number of competitors for either Advanced or Unlimited in many years.

A great thank you goes to our coach, Romain Fhal. He helped us learn the programs, prepare our flights and in my case, get the most out of the airplane, which I did not know before.

The first pilots arrived at the competition airfield in Jean, Nevada, already on 13th October and training flights went on until 24th October. The organizers had set up two boxes, which were always used simultaneously. At the peak we had up to 5 airplanes in the air at the same time. Two in the boxes, two in the holding areas and the sky divers whose drop zone was between the boxes and just next to the traffic pattern. Except for two broken canopies (on take-off and in mid-air) and one almost head-on landing on Runways 20R and 02L (!!!), it was a smooth and well-organized training camp. We started at 07:00 in the morning and last flights were at sunset around 17:45. Each pilot got two flights per day with exactly 11 minutes in the box on each hop. We also all had our fair share of early, noon and late flights.

While Guillaume Jacquet, who was already familiar with the Extra family of competition aircraft, chose to travel to the USA only on the 18th, I started my trip on 7th October in Texas.

I flew to Dallas and joined Mike Gallaway, whom I first met at WAC 2015 in Châteauroux, and Darren Behm (whose plane Guillaume and I would rent) at their home base, Aero Country Airport (T31) in McKinney. I was welcomed with open arms and both pilots went all out to help me familiarize with Darren’s Extra 300S, N43DM. Already on the first day, after an official biennial flight review, Mike took his Bonanza and lead me in the single seater to North Texas Regional Airport for my initial familiarization. It is always awesome, when you have a huge airport all for yourself, especially when it is so big that you do not leave the grounds – or the box located within the perimeter – throughout your flight. I was able to train alone but mostly coached by Mike for almost a week. It was also interesting to see the system of privately owned waivered boxes in the USA. One of them being in Denison (KGYI) and the other at Cavanaugh Ranch (9S1), just five minutes flying time north of N43DM’s home base.

The Extra 300S is the first version of a 300+ HP single seat Extra. It may not have all the performance of a modern 330SC but it is well balanced and easy and fun to fly.

Mike and Darren ferried N43DM from McKinney to Jean on the 17th. It was a 6 ½ hour (true flight time) cross country flight, which took them across half of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona (along the Grand Canyon) to the southern tip of Nevada. Here again, Mike used his Bonanza to bring all the material that we might need during the competition. They both stayed with us until the 21st, to make sure all three pilots renting the plane (Markus, Guillaume and Igoris Lobanovas from Lithuania) would be ready for the competition.

WAAC 2023 started on 25th October with the first 15 pilots. It took some time to get all the official organization – Jury, Judges, Contest Office – up and running.

The weather was beautiful and warm but …

There was always quite a lot of wind during the training days and it did not die down for competition. It was so strong that already on the first day we had 8 protest and all pilots were allowed to re-fly. Then for two days, everything went well. Until the wind picked up even more and eventually was out of all limits. To make a long story short. The contest director had planned for two reserve days, which were all eaten up by delays (slow judges and protests) and high winds. At the end we had to accept that for flight #4 a cut was made for the top 25 pilots only. All others were ranked based on three flights.

The top teams were France, Romania and USA. Being only two competitors from Switzerland, Guillaume and I could not be ranked as a team. It would be great if we could change that for future championships. With a group of experienced pilots, good training and preparation it could be possible to have a great result that might surprise the “big” countries.

Jean airport is approx. 30 minutes from the Las Vegas strip, along the highway to Los Angeles. Basically, in the middle of nowhere, most spectators were family and friends of the competitors. With the big casino hotels, it was possible to have everybody from the WAAC stay at the same place. The South Point hotel is not the flashiest resort in town but, because it is home to many rodeo style events, we had some good fun there as well. There were cowboys for the Pro Bull Riding, Indians for their national rodeo finals and a totally different bunch of people for a 2 million US Dollar bingo tournament. For those who wanted to see something else on their days off, there is plenty to do around Las Vegas, from driving fast cars on a race track to going swimming in the Colorado river an hour downstream from Hoover dam.

Every event has its highs and lows. The organizer and contest director certainly meant well but because of a lack in communication and shortage in staff some events, like the opening ceremony, mid-week bar-b-q at a local saloon and even the final dinner left us all wanting.

On the upside, we were able to meet many interesting people and spend time with friends we had not seen in years.

A World or European Championship is a great experience. It takes time to prepare, money to get there, weather that allows you to fly and an organization that runs everything smoothly. But in the end, even if not all is perfect but your programs went well, your scores are good and you had fun, it’s worth all the efforts.

Look me up on Facebook, where I have posted photos of the whole trip.

Markus Ruesch