Jiří Pruša, the man of hights and of long distances

On July 1, a unique event took place at Brač Airport (LDSB/BWK). After a 13-hour and 24-minute flight from Honningsvåg (HVG/ENHV) in Norway, situated in the far north of Europe, the aircraft SHARK, registered as OK-BUG11 and piloted by Czech pilot Jiří Pruša, landed at Brač Airport at 11:34 local time. Throughout the journey, the flight was accompanied by daylight. With this flight, Jiří Pruša achieved a personal distance flight record, which is most probably also an unofficial world record for ultralight aircraft. Although this record was not officially recognized, Mr. Jiří Pruša is an official world record holder. https://www.fai.org/record/20009

A day earlier, the ground operations officer at Brač Airport noticed an important information in the remark of the received flight plan: “ATTEMPT AT WORLD RECORD IN DISTANCE FLIGHT”. She immediately informed the airport management and staff about this, and a modest but hearty welcome was organized.

The day after this extraordinary event, we took the opportunity to talk to Mr. Pruša.

AR: By way of introduction, can you tell when you first noticed the interest in flying and how this path grew to such achievements?

JP: I would say it started when I was four years old because my father worked at Prague Airport. I used to go with him and watch the airplanes. My real flying began at the age of 14 when I started training in gliders. I got my pilot’s license when I was 16 and have been flying gliders ever since.

In 2000, after the political changes, I decided that flying a powered aircraft became interesting because I was allowed to fly across borders. I was never interested in just flying around one airport. In 2004, I bought my first ultralight aircraft, but I didn’t fly much at first because I was still working hard. Then I started my own business, which gave me more control over my time. I earned my Private Pilot License (PPL) in the US, which was helpful because it required communicating only in English. There, I had the opportunity to fly to bigger airports, which was important. Everything progressed quickly for me, unlike many students who can only fly once or twice a week. I dedicated six weeks solely to flying, focusing intensely and flying every day for three or four hours. As a result, I completed my PPL in about five weeks. Concentrating on just one thing and flying consistently every day helped me internalize it.

After that, I flew around the United States in an aircraft I rented from the school and was very impressed. I found a Cessna in South Africa and rented it, but I needed to validate my PPL according to South African rules. The Cessna had its issues; it had an “optimistic” fuel gauge that always showed a full tank, so I used a stick to measure fuel. Sometimes, it wouldn’t start, and I had to wait. Despite these challenges, I managed to cover flights around South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, and Botswana. It was a very interesting experience.

Later, I bought Cirrus SR20 and started flying around Europe. I also acquired a license to publish an aviation magazine Flying Revue (www.flying-revue.cz), and today it’s the number one Czech magazine about flying. I felt it was wonderful to share my experiences and knowledge. I also published several books and a textbook on Aviation English, which is the top textbook in the Czech Republic in this field. I enjoy sharing my experiences and knowledge, even though it’s not financially rewarding.

AR: It is quite common for general aviation pilots to share their feelings of being less welcome at larger airports with high airline traffic. Do you share the same opinion?

JP: It depends on the airport, but transport airports usually tend not to like general aviation. Also, the security checks at bigger airports treat everyone the same. For example, they won’t let you take water on the aircraft, but I need it. Another issue is the price.

This is my third time at Brač Airport, and I’m treated very nicely here. Friendly and welcoming people, reasonable charges, excellent service. What more can a pilot ask for?

AR: Now we can continue with the most important topic at the moment: what can you tell us about this extraordinary achievement that brought you to Brač Airport?

JP: I started flying long-distance last year. My initial plan was to fly to Canada with a stop in Iceland. However, due to operational problems, I had to return. I ended up flying from Reykjavik to Prague, a 2,600 km journey, which was my first long-distance flight.

Last August, I set a world record for long-distance flight, recognized by the FAI. This 1,912 km flight had strict rules: flying in a closed circle, specific allowable angles, and an inspector to weigh the aircraft and crew. The crew had to consist of two people,  so as we were limited at the same time by the MTOM of 600 kg, we could not fill up our tanks to full level.

I then contemplated setting a real record for the longest flight possible. After calculations, I planned to fly from Lisbon to Larnaca, Cyprus. However, the day wasn’t long enough, and my aircraft wasn’t equipped for night flying. So, I considered the long polar days in northern Norway during June and July. This idea came to me in November last year, and I started planning it out. Timing was crucial; if I started at 6 or 7 PM, I would encounter nightfall over southern Sweden. Thus, I planned to depart around 10 PM to ensure daylight throughout the flight, allowing me to see the sun most of the time. Flying in daylight all night was a unique experience, especially for someone from Central Europe.

I filed a normal VFR flight plan, concerned that ATC might object to night flying. VFR stands for Visual Flight Rules, and I could fly visually because of the continuous daylight. This was why I chose to start from Honningsvåg Airport in Nordkapp.

Initially, I planned to fly to Rome, but two factors changed my mind. First my friends at Shark factory planned to organise a big welcome party at Rome Urbe airport. Originally, I liked the idea but later I realised the pressure it would put on me because if I knew that people were waiting for me, I would feel compelled to reach the destination which could lead me to make wrong decisions. So I asked the welcome party to be canceled.

The second reason was fuel concerns. I worried that I might reach Pula with 30-40 liters of fuel left and have to decide whether to land short of my goal of over 3,000 km or risk ending up over the Adriatic. Consequently, I decided Rome wasn’t the right destination.

I recalculated and decided on Brač, where I had a friend and knew the airport well, with Zadar as an alternate. Over Zadar, I had enough fuel and no issues, so I continued to Brač.

After the warm welcome from the Brač airport staff, I’m really happy with how everything turned out. 🙂

Flight statistics:

  • aircraft Shark 600 registered in the ultralight category
  • flight duration: 13 hours 24 minutes (departure on 30 JUN at 2010 UTC, arrival on 01 JUL at 0934 UTC)
  • average speed: 240 km/h
  • average fuel consumption: 18 l/h
  • total fuel consumption: 240 l

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