"When pondering all aspects that can influence success in gliding, good flying skills and technique emerge as the basis. If basic training is well organised, 80% of the trained population can achieve the level of proficiency necessary to win any competition. But that is only the beginning: you must add resilience to stress and a fighting spirit, which are in my opinion the key factor. Within this group of 80% of pilots with necessary piloting skills, 20% will be more ambitious and acquire more knowledge. A bit more ambition and knowledge moves us from tenth to one of the first three positions. A placing within the first three is very often decided by luck as the air is still an unpredictable element."
"Solitary birds, in contrast to a flock, don’t always fly to where there is the best lift as they may have some other goal rather than quickly gaining height. Different species behave differently and have different habits depending on the season. Sometimes a weak gust is enough if they are hunting above a meadow and are expecting any moment to dive and catch a rabbit. A small thermal above a young forest may suffice if they are hunting flies or other delicacies. Low-flying white terns are an excellent indicator in our region. You can see them easily and a flock is definitely flying in a thermal. In the spring and autumn, huge flocks of crows are an excellent indicator of where to find thermals. In autumn, buzzards contend amongst themselves for domination, and therefore height, aggressively searching for the best gusts just like a pack of gliders. Whenever one of them finds a stronger thermal, the others immediately fly over to it. In contrast, the same birds are perfectly happy with weaker lift when flying alone; they can fly at lower speeds and circle more tightly so a thermal they are using may in fact be of no use to a pilot. If the lift we’re in is no worse than the average on that particular day, it’s better not to fly off to a distant, small bird to see what lift it is circling in. We can simply assess whether or not it is climbing faster than we are. When flying fast beneath the cloud base surrounded by swifts or swallows feeding on insects, it’s worth preparing yourself for a strong gust, as the birds are catching insects caught up in the thermals. Vultures are masters at using their senses to discover thermals, something we can’t do in a glider. Maybe they can feel the air temperature or hear thermals breaking away from the ground below. If you are circling with a vulture in a thermal, watch out, not only because of their unfortunate reputation, but also because when they leave the thermal it means that they have found a better one. It’s a good idea therefore to follow them. At lower heights, it’s almost guaranteed that your bald flying companion has felt the thermal weakening, and that close by to windward there is a new current rising."
Interviewer: "What about doping?"
Kawa: "There is no doping in gliding."
Interviewer: "You’re a doctor. How could performance-enhancing drugs help you?"
Kawa: "They couldn’t. ??? It’s impossible…That’s the strange thing about aviation as a whole, all these banned substances would do more harm than good. There is no magic remedy that can help a person who is healthy, but there are plenty of substances that could definitely do harm."
Interviewer: "But there are substances that can help to improve your stamina. Some flights last for 5, 6 or even 7 hours. Performance-enhancing drugs allow you to process data faster and charge you."
Kawa: "Yes, but after the period of high comes a sudden low."
Interviewer: "But that’s after the flight."
Kawa: "Not necessarily. And you have to keep up the pace for two weeks. It could only have a negative effect."
Interviewer: "So basically nobody uses anything."
Kawa: "It would be dangerous, because such substances could have serious effects on a pilot. Here I mean drugs, amphetamines, or other stimulants, which could affect a pilot’s heartbeat during a flight. If someone is walking along the street and something like this happens because they wanted to get a kick and it didn’t work, they can just lie down until it passes or wait for the ambulance to arrive. However, if somebody has a health problem during a flight then unfortunately it has to end tragically. Aviation regulations governing medical issues list a few substances among the drugs used for doping which are banned because they could have a negative effect on someone’s abilities."
Interviewer: "Have you ever come across any examples of people trying to boost their performance in any way?"
Kawa: "I have never come across this problem in aviation or gliding, and I’ve never heard of a situation where someone was using something. And I do not have the slightest suspicions regarding my opponents, some of whom I have at times lost to, that they were using some form of doping which could help them. That’s why I am so disappointed that the International Aviation Federation, the FAI, has gone on an anti-doping drive. It’s a nightmare for sportsmen! The authorities want to know exactly where you’re going to be three months in advance so that they can easily find you at any time. Because apparently some madmen in other sports inject urine into their bladders before samples are taken. That’s just sick…In my opinion for us in would be enough to conduct tests during competitions, for example using a simple breathalyser."
Interviewer: "So from what you’re saying it looks as if the FAI are really checking to see if there are any potential suiciders amongst the gliding elite. That’s bordering on the absurd."
Kawa: "There’s a creaky old organisation called WADA that doesn’t know what to do with its money and has gone a bit mad. If they do exclude someone from flying it will be pure coincidence because someone has taken cough medicine, or they’ve been unlucky and eaten beef containing beta-adrenolite. It’s as if we tested chess players for steroids, although I’m sure they’re hassling them as well."
Interviewer: "With chess players it could be possible. There are substances which have a powerful short-term effect on intellectual ability."
Kawa: "Ok, maybe. But even if that’s true they have to be taken during competitions, and could then be tested for and detected. What’s more, I would be astonished if the substances didn’t have a negative effect on chess players’ intellectual capacity in the long-term. It seems highly unlikely that someone who uses their intellect all the time would risk damaging it in any way. If someone does use something like that then I suspect it’s a one-off. The later effects are highly destructive: schizophrenia, depression. And the anti-doping agencies won’t leave us alone, even outside competitions."
Interviewer: "Because in competition there is always someone who wants to make the path to victory easier."
Kawa: "It definitely wouldn’t be the pilots who achieve world class results year after year. I think there will always be people who will try it out, whether it’s in a car, a plane, or a glider, but it’s rather suicidal. In my opinion it’s impossible to find something that would help over the long-term and can be taken outside of competitions. It would be absurd for a pilot to take some of the banned substances on the list. How on earth could steroids help? You have to take part in gliding over many years. It’s not a sport where you become successful, earn huge amounts of money and then disappear. It takes years of hard work, experience, and non-stop learning. It’s not like someone revising for an exam, it lasts for years. My opinion is that if there was a substance that helped pilots intellectually then there would be a shocking number of schizophrenics. It takes ten years of experience if you want to reach a world class level…"