Paris, 1934 : Coupe mondiale d'acrobatie aérienne

There was great speculation when a World Cup competition for aerobatics was announced in early 1934, to take place at Vincennes, Paris, on 9-10 June. The French Aero Club's invitation to this first ever World Championship included total prize money of 275,000 francs on offer. The winner would receive 100,000 francs.
It was an enormous event, a high-spot of the Paris society season, with 150,000 spectators crowded into the military parade-ground at Vincennes which had been converted expressly for the occasion, with grandstands specially erected. Nine competitors took part, drawn from six nations: Ambruz and Novak from Czechoslovakia, Cavalli and Detroyat from France, Achgelis and Fieseler from Germany, Christopher Clarkson from Great Britain, Ambrogio Colombo from Italy and Placido d'Abreu from Portugal.
The initial compulsory programme required a list of figures to be performed within a time limit of eight minutes, including a right-hand and a left-hand spin, a bunt, a negative loop forward and upward, and an inverted 360 degree turn. On the Sunday, each contestant flew his free programme, for which he had ten minutes: his sequence was submitted in advance to the Jury, and each manoeuvre was assigned a difficulty coefficient already set out in the rules, new figures were also awarded appropriate coefficients, but most were to be found already in the current catalogue of 87 manoeuvres. The task of the judges was to assign each figure a mark between I and 5 for quality of performance, with a zero mark for figures not executed. These were then multiplied by the difficulty coefficients, the totals of all the judges were added together, then they were divided to arrive at an average.
On the second day, Sunday, after the morning's air display, German star Gerhard Fieseler had the harrowing experience of watching a French pilot crash to his death on landing right next to him shortly before the contest resumed. The atmosphere became charged, but this was only a foretaste of later events: the fourth competitor of the afternoon, the Portugese Captain d'Abreu, mishandled his controls during a half-roll from inverted and got into a spin at very low altitude, his aircraft speared into the middle of the field and burned . . . pandemonium reigned. Two men dead in the space of an hour.
The organisers were at a loss; should the competition be stopped? Many felt that it should. Gerhard Fieseler stepped forward and assumed the role of spokesman for his fellow pilots: " Each man among us knows that he may meet his fate at any time. We are prepared for that. What if the early pioneers had given up when one of their number lost his life to aviation? I believe we will best honour our comrade by continuing to fly."
The contest was resumed, and immediately afterwards another mishap occurred: the Italian Ambrogio Colombo, flying a newly-built aircraft from the Breda factory in Milan, started a spin without enough height and collided with the top of a tree. He retired with a branch embedded in his landing gear. On a later take-off, with the machine repaired, he had an engine failure and crash-landed the aeroplane rather than risk coming down in the public enclosures; the aircraft was destroyed, though he himself escaped without serious injury. The crowd remained calm.
The afternoon wore on: Cavalli, Novak, Ambruz, Achgelis, Detroyat; Fieseler flew last. He had spent five weeks practisng his free programme, which contained 38 extremely complicated and taxing figures, among them super-slow rolls which carried very high marks if performed precisely. Suddenly, four minutes before the end, he felt his shoulder harness come loose. This was his main security during manoeuvres under negative g; and it had happened at the worst possible moment: immediately before a negative loop. His only solution was to make a much bigger circle - widen the diameter of the loop - so as to reduce the amount of negative g he would have to sustain. But in doing this he consumed vital seconds from his time limit, and at the end of the sequence he had over-run by three whole manoeuvres. Surely this must dash his hopes of the title.  

Gerhard Fieseler (left) and Michel Detroyat, two of the brightest stars in European aerobatics between the wars, finished first and second, respectively at the first WAC in Vincennes in 1934. From Flight Fantastic
Judges line at the the first World Aerobatic Championships, Vincennes, Paris, June 1934. From Flight Fantastic
When the results were announced however, Fieseler had a lead over Detroyat by 23 points despite the over-run; he was the first World Aerobatic Champion in history. Michel Detroyat finished second, Gerd Achgelis third. Fieseler now took the decision to retire from the sport at the pinnacle of his success. He is a valued patron of sport aerobatics to this day, and thanks to his generosity the Fieseler Trophy contest is one of the most prestigious international events in the modern competition calendar. Fieseler is remembered today as the designer of the Fieseler Storch, a utility aircraft with remarkable STOL capabilities.
World Aerobatic Championships, Paris 1934

Gerhard Fieseler
(F2 Tiger)
Michel Detroyat 
Gerd Achgelis
Frantisek Novak
(Avia B. 122)
Jerome Cavalli
Ambrogio Colombo
(Breda 28)
Placido d'Abreu
(Avro Tutor)
Jan Ambruz 
(Avia B. 122)
Christopher Clarkson
(Tiger Moth)