Czech pilot celebrates centenary of Czechoslovakia by round-the-world flight

Czech pilot Roman Kramařík has completed a flight around the world in a small Cessna airplane marking the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia. Over the course of 46 days, the one-time aerobatic pilot crossed three oceans and three continents, covering over 40,000 kilometres. I met with Mr. Kramařík just a few days after he landed in Prague and I first asked him what made him set out on this adventurous journey:

Roman Kramařík is greeted by his family after the flight, photo: ČTK/Vít ŠimánekRoman Kramařík is greeted by his family after the flight, photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek “It was a gradual process, how that idea evolved. I would say it all started when my grandmother, who actually happened to be a pilot as well (when she was young, she was flying those wooden gliders that were launched on a flexible cord), gave me a book by Jan Antonín Baťa, who was a famous Czech industrialist before the war.

“He flew around the world and wrote a book about it called ‘Around the World for Business’, and that book was a really exciting read. When I got it, it coincided with our club getting a new airplane OK-TGM, which is the acronym of the first Czechoslovak President.

“And as the 2018 was approaching I thought that it would be a nice opportunity to take Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk around the world. And that’s how it all started.”

So it is no coincidence that your project took place this year, in 2018.

“Absolutely, if there was no 2018, I would be probably waiting another ten years until I had enough experience to venture around the world.”

How did you prepare for the journey and how long did the preparation itself take?

“It took about three years, three months, and thirty-three days. Three years ago we started with the planning, which involved a lot of research. Then three months before I flew, everything changed, including all the routes and even the type of aircraft I was supposed to fly. Thirty days before my departure everything changed again. And there were even some changes three days before I left.

“There were no difficulties at all. If you can spend 135 hours sitting in the office every month, than you can do it in the plane as well.”

“And the route also changed when I was already on my way. Only after I departed from Prague I found out that the Japanese authorities would not approve my crossing of the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Aleutian Islands and I had to look for an alternative, which was a routing through Russia.”

I imagine you had a whole team of people helping you to prepare the project…

“Absolutely, there was a whole army of angels both on the Earth and up in the skies. Those angels helped me a lot with preparing the flight, funding it and organizing every single day.

“There was an enormous amount of paperwork involved, getting all the permits in place, getting the aircraft in order, doing the maintenance, putting all the Czech flags on it, all the names of people who have helped me and so on.”

And how did you yourself prepare for the flight? I know that among other things, you trained for an emergency landing on water. How did you do that?

“Well, I booked a swimming pool, borrowed an emergency life raft and a life jacket and I tried how it is to swim with the immersion suit on and with the life jacket on and how easy or difficult it is to climb into the life raft. I tried how easy it is if you have your arms broken using just one arm, using no arm.

“So I have done all of that in the quiet and warm water in the Czech Agriculture University here in Prague and I was ready and knew what I would be doing in the very unlikely event that I had to ditch in the water somewhere.”

Photo: ČTK/Vít ŠimánekPhoto: ČTK/Vít Šimánek Overall, you spent some 135 hours in the air. What was the most difficult thing about that? Was it the small size of the plane or the fact that you were on your own most of the time?

“There were no difficulties at all. If you can spend 135 hours sitting in the office every month, than you can do it in the plane as well.”

Did you encounter any unexpected technical problems during the flight?

“They were all unexpected, because you cannot plan for technical difficulties, but I obviously didn’t encounter any show-stoppers, otherwise I wouldn’t be in Prague.

“But planes are just machines and machines do break. They are designed in a way that if they break it is not life threatening. This is why flying is such a safe means of transport.

“But inevitably, even though they are designed very well (this aircraft was designed in 1979), there are some issues occurring regularly and I am used to that.

“The most significant issue was a dent in one of the proper blades that I have found after landing in Thailand. Ultimately the manufacturer of the propeller convinced me that a simple field repair would be enough so I repaired that dent and continued.”

You wanted to make stops at places that are somehow connected with Czech history? Which of these places have made the biggest impression on you?

“We both had tears in our eyes when the Dalai Lama was talking about Václav Havel.”

“It’s hard to say, because they were all quite special. It wasn’t the places, but rather the people, who made an impression on me. I followed their inspirational stories in order to inspire people back here we are a great nation and there are a lot of great Czechs all around the world.

“Of the Czech compatriots that I have met the greatest impression I brought from two meetings. One was a meeting with Czech compatriots in Chicago, where I met a group of wonderful people who are living the Czech history and Czech patriotism more than most people you meet on the streets in this country.

“And the second meeting was a meeting with the grandson of Jan Antonín Baťa, the author of the book that started it all, with whom I spent two great days of talking about his country and company history and searching through his archives, through some amazing documents.”

Among the many people you met was the Dalai Lama? What was the meeting like?

“He isn’t Czech, obviously, but he was a good friend of a wonderful and a great Czech who is not among us anymore but his life and his values were a great a footprint that Czechs made in the world.

Roman Kramařík, photo: Eva TurečkováRoman Kramařík, photo: Eva Turečková “So when I knew that I would be flying through India I asked for an audience with a view to ask His Holiness the Dalai Lama for memories about Václav Havel, which he did and it was a wonderful audience. I really enjoyed it.

“It was really very emotional. We both had tears in our eyes when he was talking about Václav Havel, about what he accomplished and what he could have accomplished had he lived a little longer.”

Were you in touch with your family during the flight? And did you actually have to persuade them to let you undergo this mission?

“It certainly wasn’t easy, but ultimately I got it. I think it was probably harder for my wife to endure those six weeks than it was for me, because I knew what risks I was undertaking and I didn’t worry.

“I knew that I checked everything and that the risk of anything happening was extremely small, since flying is the second safest mode of transportation after taking an elevator. So it was left for my wife to worry.

“And yes, we were in touch, whenever we could we would make video calls and during the flight I did let them know I was OK either through a satellite phone or through a satellite communicator by sending short texts.”

Finally you have so many great memories, are you planning to put them on paper?

You can find more about Roman Kramařík’s flight at www.okridlenylev.cz or www.facebook.com/okridlenylev.

“Absolutely, I wanted to have that ready by the time I land but that has proven to be a gross overestimation of my time available on the mission. So I will have to do this now that I am back, while I still remember everything.

“And yes, I want to put together a book about circumnavigation and I would also like to populate the book with short stories about inspiring Czechs and about the Czech presence around the world. So if I may ask the listeners of your radio I would really like to have some suggestions about Czech footprints that they find inspiring.”