Sebastian Kawa

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Sebastian Kawa
Sebastian Kawa piloting over the Aconcagua.JPG
Sebastian Kawa, training flight over the Aconcagua
Born 15 November 1972
Zabrze[1] Poland
Nationality Polish
Spouse Anna
Relatives father Tomasz Kawa, glider pilot
Aviation career
Known for most World Champion titles in gliding history, 2004-2015 among top 3 ranked FAI glider pilots, thrice World Grand Prix Champion
First flight June 7, 1988
SZD-50 Puchacz
Racing career
First race 1992 Polish Junior Nationals, 1st place win
Best position current Standard and 15 m class World Champion
Aircraft SZD-56 Diana 2, Discus 2a, ASG 29

Sebastian Kawa is a Polish glider pilot, eleven-times World Champion, world (FAI) leading glider competition pilot (currently[2] number one in the world rankings of the FAI Gliding Commission) and the current World Champion in 15m Class and European gliding champion in 18m Class.[3]

Sebastian Kawa is a second-generation glider pilot, together with his father Tomasz Kawa (an accomplished competition pilot as well) associated with the Mountain Gliding School "Żar" in southern Poland.[4][5] In his youth, before becoming a pilot, Sebastian Kawa was a competitive sailor in Cadet, Optimist and 420 class, with multiple titles in national championships and participation in top level European and world events.[6] He is also (like his parents) a qualified physician, working at the General Hospital in Bielsko-Biała.[7]

Sebastian is also known in the Polish gliding community for numerous Web writings and films[8][9][10] popularizing the sport.

His autobiography and advanced gliding tutorial Sky Full of Heat (English and Polish language editions) was published in December 2012.[11]

Sport biography[edit]

Tug plane and gliders in front of the hangar of the Mountain Gliding School "Żar"
Optymist - boat class Sebastian Kawa started his sailing competitive career with
Cadet - competition class, usual step in training of young sailors in sailing of a two-person boat with full complement of sails - mainsail, jib, spinnaker. This class has World Championships organized (junior level only)
420 - class of high performance racing boats for juniors, usually an entry to olympic class 470 sailing
Pirat, type Sebastian Kawa started his cross country flight training in 1989
PW-5, first bronze medal World Championship win for Sebastian Kawa (1999)
Diana 2, glider Sebastian Kawa flew to his recent gold medal win at 2012 Uvalde 15m WGC competition

Family tradition[edit]

Sebastian Kawa's parents, both physicians, settled in Międzybrodzie Żywieckie so his father Tomasz could practice gliding (as a competitor and instructor) at the nearby Mountain Gliding School "Żar".[12] The Mountain Gliding School "Żar" is one of the birth places of the sport in Poland. Tomasz Kawa is a longtime top level glider pilot, among other accomplishments representing Poland in World Championships.[13]


The "gliding roots" nothwithstanding, first sporting activity of Sebastian Kawa was competitive sailing. He was the member of the sailing club "Neptune" sponsored by the local automobile factory (FSM Bielsko). From 8 to 18 years of age he raced in Cadet, Optimist and 420 class. He regularly placed first in National Championships and was representing Poland in World Championships. Sebastian Kawa fondly recalls receiving a trophy from Princess Diana after (2nd place) one of the races off the shore of Wales. As his club (a recurring theme during all his sporting career) did not belong to the mainstream of the power structure of the Polish sport establishment, Sebastian Kawa had to sometimes overcome obstacles caused by petty bureaucratic favoritism.

At age 18 Sebastian Kawa had to quit competitive sailing. At this age, the sports rules required transition to the classes of sailboats his club was not equipped with (e.g. 470 class) and could not afford. The transition from the communist rule in Poland and associated changes in industrial ownership caused his club to lose the sponsor. This probably cost Sebastian Kawa his chances for an Olympic sports career.

Flight training[edit]

In the mean time, at the age of 16, Sebastian Kawa completed ab-initio gliding training and became (July 1988) a student pilot. For the next 2 years, all while engaged in sailing, he quickly advances in subsequent stages of glider pilot training, logging over 200 hours. In 1989 he gains his first "diamond" to the gliding badge (declared 300 km closed loop flight) and makes the 3 km+ gain of altitude flight. He trains extensively in Pirat, Junior, Foka and Cobra gliders. He also obtained glider ratings for night and instrument flying. During this time, he also commenced extensive cross country flight training. In his biography, Sebastian Kawa credits his father for passing him the knowledge and experience necessary to compete effectively in this sport.

Competitive gliding[edit]

From 1992 (win in Polish Junior Nationals in Leszno flying the Junior glider), Sebastian Kawa climbs the ladder of progressively more elite gliding competitions, gradually advancing his placements up to the 3rd place in the 1999 World Championships in the World (PW-5) class and the win in 2003 in the same class. From this moment on, he wins virtually every[14] topmost level competition he starts in, accumulating 9 gold medals at the world championship level and becoming the most decorated gliding pilot in history.

In his biography Sebastian Kawa vividly describes the process of accumulating experience and knowledge necessary to compete at elite level. He expresses the opinion that "it takes about 10 years of maximal concentration and effort to get to fly against the masters".[15] In many places however he reminds of an always present factor of chance in aviation, referring to, and in the spirit of the cult book "Fate is the Hunter" by Ernest Gann, the chance which had to be reckoned with, even with most minute and knowledgeable planning.

Personal life[edit]

Sebastian Kawa graduated (some classes with honors) from the city of Żywiec high school and got his medical degree from Medical University of Silesia (obstetrics and gynaecology). His work at the Bielsko-Biała General Hospital he describes by the remark " seems all children choose to be born at midnight". In his free time Sebastian Kawa actively teaches at Mountain Gliding School "Żar". He is married to Anna, with two children.

Gliding instructor[edit]

Sebastian Kawa is very active promoting the sport and teaching and training gliding enthusiasts at all competence levels (including student pilots). Training with him is often available individually at the Mountain Gliding School "Żar"[16] and during training camps organized jointly by the Mountain Gliding School "Żar" and Karkonosze Gliding Association[17]

Current/Recent major competition[edit]

Sebastian Kawa had won the Champion title in the 18m Class at the 17th European Gliding Championships at Vinon sur Verdon.[18][19] This is his first major title in the 18m Class. Sebastian Kawa defended the European Champion title in the Standard Class at the 17th FAI European Gliding Championships (2013) in Ostrów Wielkopolski (5–20 July 2013). After to silver medals in Sisteron and Räyskälä in 2014 Sebastian defended again 15m class champion title in Leszno Wilkopolskie [20] Since gliding calsses have multiplied ( with 20m class and 13.5m calass added recently ) there are two editions of competitions each year and with Sailplane Grand Prix it gives three possibilities to participate in FAI first class events every second year ( except if competition fall at the turn of the year ). In 2015 Sebastian Kawa defended his 18m class title from France winning competition in Őcsény.[21] He claims thet busy season did not give a chance to prepare for SGP finals in Varese, resulting in a bronze medal.

Highlights of Vinon sur Verdon (18m Class) competition[edit]

Position after 9th and the last competition day: first, giving the Europe Champion title.[22]

  • Day 1: very late and handicapped start (4pm for 400 km, 50min after main competitors, 600m+ lower), from well below allowed altitude due to very weak thermal conditions near airfield. Managed to place 4th flying a good synergy of thermal and ridge lifts on the second half of the course.[23]
  • Day 2: tricky conditions at first part of the task (subtle subinversion blue wave). Deep penetration of AAT areas (second mileage of the day) flown to a second place.[23]
  • Day 3: decisive win (10+min ahead of next competitor) flown ahead of the gaggle. Edge over well acquainted with local conditions French competitors possibly partly due to unusual for the season weather (very wet), negating and reversing their advantage of intimacy with the local airflow patterns. Move to the lead in general classification.[23]
  • Day 4: a solid win (task done 5 min faster than next competitor) while initially chasing the gaggle. Kawa had problems with getting an adequate start altitude, which allowed main competitors to break away at the start with a 5-minute lead. Keeping the visual contact, Kawa managed to chase them into the upper parts of the Alps, where the combined skills and experience of present pilots assured safe and speedy transit of the whole group. A final breakaway attempt by Kawa failed due to mastery of knowledge of the local wind patterns by French competitors.[23]
  • Day 5: a win in time close to minimum allowed. A rather chaotic day caused by weak, unpredictable and rapidly changing weather. Kawa's report suggests that the outcome was decided by both luck and meticulous husbanding of whatever the luck offered. At one point an advantage of a few meters in altitude was what decisively put him ahead of part of competitors, who could not fly the straight route over a particular ridge he could. Didier Hauss used his knowledge of the area to fly (with some companions) deeper into assigned areas, but this turned against him as the conditions deteriorated penalizing those tarrying longer.[23]
  • Day 6: task in a rain over the mountains, with Kawa 10th with a dismal speed and as a late last of those who finished the task. In places the decisions to race aggressively had the potential downside of a forced landing in the mountains, depending how the dice lands. Half of the competitors did not finish. Jaroslav Tomana of the Czech team flew the longest route to the win, with French team placing close second. Remarkable accomplishment for a non-local Czech pilot in very hard conditions. Kawa slipped to second position in a general classification.[23]
  • Day 7: second place in an unpredictable weather. One of competitors crashed. Last finishing competitor landing close to the sunset almost 2 hours past the winner. Maintaining second position in a general classification.[22][23]
  • June 17: competition for the day cancelled due to a fatal glider crash on the previous day.[23]
  • June 18: competition for the day cancelled[22]
  • June 19: competition for the day cancelled[22]
  • Day 8: third, but Didier who restarted the task over an hour later came eight, so Sebastian regained the lead.[22] Didier Hauss gambled and restarted the task in the middle of the first attempt to take advantage of improving weather, the gamble failed.[23]
  • Day 9: 4th, but with Didier Hauss outlanding this was enough to defend the first position in general classification for the Champion title.[19][22] Both Kawa and Hauss flied individually and aggressively (as opposed to just defend their 1st and 2nd positions flying in a gaggle), which had put both in tight corners.[19]

2013 FAI European Gliding Championships[edit]

17th FAI European Gliding Championships (2013) in Ostrów Wielkopolski (5–20 July 2013). Sebastian Kawa competed in the Standard Class, flying Schempp-Hirth Discus 2a and defending his 2011 Champion title.[24][25][26]

  • Day 1: Sebastian Kawa took 1st, Christophe Cousseau of France 2nd. Incidentally it is exactly the same order as final results of 18 metre class Championship competition a month before. Sebastian Kawa mentioned the deteriorating weather as one of the factors allowing him to win - such conditions gave the advantage to pilots flying aggressively to lead.[27]
  • Day 2: 1st position again, leading two other team members (Paweł Wojciechowski and Łukasz Wójcik) to 2nd and 3rd place. This was an AAT task, Polish team took the longest route.[26] What is interesting, the team flew together to a win in 2 different types of gliders (Discus2a/ax and LS8).
  • Day 3: 1st, for a perfect score of 3000 points for 3 days. Places 2 and 3 taken by Łukasz Wójcik and Paweł Wojciechowski.[26]
  • Day 4: 2nd, with 999 points due to a 7-second loss over 438 km course to the winner, Łukasz Wójcik. Again, Polish team took first 3 spots. Remaining at the lead of general Standard Class classification.[26]
  • Day 5: 2nd, behind Radek Krejcirik of the Czech Republic. Polish team keeps top three positions in overall classification, with Sebastian Kawa first.[26]
  • Day 6: 2nd (behind Peter Millenaar of Netherlands).[26]
  • Day 7: first.[26]
  • Day 8: 2nd (all 3 pilots of the Polish team took first 3 spots).[26]
  • Day 9: 13th. Close shave, Sebastian Kawa nearly outlanded (happened to half of the competitors this day). Remaining as #1 in the general classification.[28]
  • Day 10: 15th. Late start due to instrumentation problems, some competitors managed to use the wave lift (rare occurrence in the lowlands competition area). Enough to win first place overall (with 2 other Polish pilots in the Standard class - Łukasz Wójcik and Paweł Wojciechowski - taking silver and bronze medals).[26]

Himalaya Gliding Project[edit]

Sebastian Kawa at the end of 2013 was engaged in a reconnaissance to learn of practical gliding conditions in the high parts of the Himalayas range. The aim was to fly over the highest peaks of Nepal using Schleicher ASH 25Mi glider.[29]

Major titles[edit]

Sebastian Kawa (POL) and Maximilian Seis (FRA), winners of Sailplane Grand Prix 2015 Varese (ITA)
Award ceremony Uvalde 2012, second from the left is Sebastian Kawa
Competition Venue Year Category Result
World Championships  POL Leszno 1999 World Class Bronze medal with cup.svg Bronze
World Championships  ESP Lillo 2001 World Class Bronze medal with cup.svg Bronze
World Championships  SVK Nitra 2003 World Class Gold medal with cup.svg Gold
World Championships  NOR Elverum 2004 Club Class Gold medal with cup.svg Gold
World Championships  FRA Saint-Auban 2005 Grand Prix Gold medal with cup.svg Gold
European Championships  SVK Nitra 2005 Club Class Gold medal with cup.svg Gold
World Championships  FRA Vinon-sur-Verdon 2006 Club Class Gold medal with cup.svg Gold
European Championships  LTU Pociunai 2007 Club Class Gold medal with cup.svg Gold
World Championships  NZL Omarama 2007 Grand Prix Gold medal with cup.svg Gold
World Air Games  ITA Torino 2009 Grand Prix Gold medal with cup.svg Gold
World Championships  CHL Santiago de Chile 2010 Grand Prix Gold medal with cup.svg Gold
World Championships  SVK Prievidza 2010 Standard Class Gold medal with cup.svg Gold
European Championships  SVK Nitra 2011 Standard Class Gold medal with cup.svg Gold
World Championships  USA Uvalde 2012 15m Gold medal with cup.svg Gold
World Championships  Argentina Chavez 2013 Standard Class Gold medal with cup.svg Gold
European Championships  FRA Vinon-sur-Verdon 2013 18m Gold medal with cup.svg Gold
European Championships  POL Ostrów Wielkopolski 2013 Standard Class Gold medal with cup.svg Gold
World Championships  FRA Sisteron 2014 Grand Prix Silver medal with cup.svg Silver
World Championships  FIN Räyskälä Airfield 2014 Standard Class Silver medal with cup.svg Silver
World Championships  POL Leszno 2014 15m Gold medal with cup.svg Gold
European Championships  HUN Őcsény 2015 18m Gold medal with cup.svg Gold
World Championships  ITA Varese 2015 Grand Prix Bronze medal with cup.svg Bronze[30]
World Championships  AUS Benalla 2017 15m Gold medal with cup.svg Gold

By winning his fifth (Grand Prix excluded) World Champion title in 2012 (Uvalde), Sebastian Kawa became the most successful Championships pilot in history, exceeding Ingo Renner's of Australia lifelong record of four championship titles (since, Sebastian Kawa won sixth title in Chavez in 2013 and seventh in Leszno Wielkopolskie in 2014).[3]

Sebastian Kawa held a world record for the "Three Turn Points Distance" in World Class in 1999 but this has since been superseded.[31]


A longtime sponsor of Sebastian Kawa is the local government of the city of Bielsko-Biała,[32] Lotto Extreme, TFI Opera, Ailleron [33]


References and Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Krótki szkic osiągnięć Sebastiana Kawy". Retrieved 2013-01-30. 
  2. ^ [1], retrieved on: October 29, 2015
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ Mountain Gliding School "Żar", retrieved on: August 22, 2012
  5. ^ Sports biography (Polish language), retrieved on: August 22, 2012
  6. ^ Biography (in Polish), retrieved on: August 22, 2012
  7. ^ Personal website of Sebastian Kawa (in Polish), retrieved on: August 22, 2012
  8. ^ Training flight with a student-pilot (in Polish), retrieved on: August 22, 2012
  9. ^ "433 km" - training flight before Grand Prix World Championships (in Polish), retrieved on: August 22, 2012
  10. ^ "Chile Sailplane Grand Prix", retrieved on: August 22, 2012
  11. ^ Kawa, Sebastian (2012). Sky Full of Heat. ELAY & SCG. p. 346. ISBN 978-1481147354. 
  12. ^ Wiele zawdzięczam Leninowi
  13. ^ E.g. 2003 Nitra WGC in World class, with his son on the same team.
  14. ^ Except 2008 Rieti world championships
  15. ^ An opinion somewhat contradicted by 2012 Uvalde results of Czech pilot Petr Krejcirik, who was 19 at the time of placing 3rd in 15m class WGC
  16. ^ Mountain Gliding School "Żar", retrieved on: June 12, 2013
  17. ^ Karkonosze Gliding Association, retrieved on: June 12, 2013
  18. ^ Website of 17th European Gliding Championships
  19. ^ a b c Report from last competition day of 17th EGC (2013) by the Team Captain (Tomasz Kawa) (in Polish)
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b c d e f Results of 17th European Gliding Championships at Vinon sur Verdon
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i Reports from 17th EGC (2013) by Sebastian Kawa and the Team Captain (Tomasz Kawa) (in Polish)
  24. ^ FAI Event Calendar
  25. ^ List of 2013 EGC Ostrów competitors
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i Soaring Spot website, results of 17th FAI European Gliding Championships (2013)
  27. ^ Report by Sebastian Kawa from the Day1 of 17th EGC in Ostrów
  28. ^ Sebastian Kawa on Day 9 of the 17th EGC
  29. ^ Sebastian Kawa's Everest Gliding Team website, retrieved on: September 09, 2013
  30. ^
  31. ^ FAI world record ID 6072, distance 591,2 km, established 1999-05-05, superseded since, retrieved on: August 22, 2012
  32. ^ [2] Note on the record of local support for Sebastian Kawa
  33. ^