45 days. That’s how long it took Roman Kramarik, Partner at JSK in the Czech Republic who recently became the first-ever Czechoslovakian pilot to fly around the world, to complete his 36,863-kilometer mission. After crossing three oceans, surviving monsoon rains, facing the cold of Alaska and the warmth of the Far East, all behind the controls of his Cessna P210N Centurion airplane named the “Winged Lion,” Kramarik returned to his office at the Prague law firm, rightly proud – and more than a little exhausted.
Stepping in Bata’s Shoes
The inspiration for Kramarik’s journey came from an unexpected source. “Three years ago I was given a book by my grandmother about the travels of the famous Czech industrialist Jan Antonin Bata, who did a similar around-the-world trip – though not solo – for business purposes, long before globalization was invented,” Kramarik explains. “He was a visionary man, so I decided to retrace his journey and search for possible Czech traces abroad – not only traces of the work of the Bata family, but also those of other emigrants who left their indelible marks around the world.”
Bata was a successful Czech shoe manufacturer who fled the Nazis before World War II and eventually settled in Brazil, where he founded several towns and communities. “He and his brother set up companies all around the world,” Kramarik says. “In 1937 he took a long trip and he wrote a lovely, inspirational book, entitled Za Obchodem Kolem Sveta [“Around the World for Business”] - it only exists in Czech – which I read in one breath.”
But Bata wasn’t the only inspiration, and Kramarik also cites the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovakia, that was celebrated this year. “Another reason for I flew now and not in ten years’ time, when I would probably be a more experienced pilot,” he says, “was to pay special respect to the establishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918 following the end of World War I.” The commemoration also played an important part in the choice of name for the aircraft. Czech aircraft are allocated the “OK” country code, but pilots are allowed to select the three letters that follow it. “You can use three letters that are available and do not mean any international codes in aviation terminology. We decided that the aircraft of our club, the Aeroklub Praha-Letnany, where I learned to fly in 1989, will carry the initials of our first president, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk.” The Winged Lion thus flew as OK-TGM.
The Pre-Flight Checklist
A team of ten people helped Kramarik prepare for his historic flight, including representatives from ABS Jets – a business jet operator at Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport – who planned the itinerary and ensured that all necessary permits were obtained. “Planning the route presented a great deal of work that was initiated a couple of weeks before the departure,” said Michal Pazourek, Director of Ground Operations at ABS Jets. “It all started with discussions and analyzing different options of how the flight should be executed with regard to weather and prevailing winds, as well as legislative requirements. This was followed by intense communication with the airports and double-checking the availability of services and fuel.”
Finally, and to make sure he was prepared for any complication that might arise, Kramarik spent hours in the swimming pool at the Czech Agricultural University to learn how to board a life raft and how to swim in a dry suit with a life jacket on.
Liftoff and Flight
On the morning of July 25, 2018, the Winged Lion took off from the Czech village of Tocna, accompanied by a group of aircraft – including the restored Lockheed Electra once used by Jan Antonin Bata.
Kramaric made 30 stops on his passage around the world, including one unexpected diversion to Nagpur, India, caused by heavier-than-expected monsoon weather. The longest stop-overs were in New Delhi, where he waited for an audience with the Dalai Lama, and in Thailand, where he repaired a dent in the propeller.
“There were no passengers on any part of the flight, because I had removed all seats from the aircraft (except the captain’s seat) for safety reasons: to reduce weight and give way to fuel, oil, supplies, and spare parts,” Kramaric remembers. “And those came in handy: in India, I had to replace a defective servo of the autopilot and in Thailand, I had to perform extensive maintenance on the aircraft.” At one point he also had to carry a hand-operated fuel pump, because in remote airports, fuel was delivered in large 200 liter drums and it was his responsibility to pump it into the tanks. “I became an expert in opening fuel drums with only pliers and a screwdriver,” he laughs.
The longest leg that Kramaric flew was 3,313 km from Halifax, Canada, to Santa Maria in the Azores, which took him just over ten hours in the air. “However, the long flights themselves, which I expected to be tiring, eventually were like a refreshing breeze,” he says, though he concedes that maintaining the necessary focus for six weeks straight was extremely challenging. “I managed – I did not collapse – but I don’t think I could have sustained something like this for 12 weeks.”
Boredom, it appears, was not a problem. “I always had something to do,” he recalls. “I took some books with me, but I did not read a single page. When you fly long legs over ocean, desert, or inhospitable remote areas such as Russia’s Far East, even when there are no urgent duties, you keep re-counting everything as you go, checking the instruments and fine-tuning the fuel mixture and engine temperature every five minutes. “
The Return of the Hero
Finally, on September 8, 2018, Kramarik completed his flight. “If I had to summarize it in one word, it would be: ‘exhausting’,” he reflects. “Not necessarily the time spent in the cockpit airborne. But the flight time, combined with the preparatory work before each flight, necessary maintenance and detailed weather analysis, and the difficult decisions I was forced to make made the whole mission an exhaustive exercise. Last but not least, I had to keep in touch with the media back home which was following the mission. There was a lot of stress overall. When you squeeze so many activities into such a short period of time, and you are facing ever-shortening days as you fly east, it can be really exhausting. A lot more than I expected it would be.”
“Nonetheless it was definitely worth all the pain,” he smiles. “I saw some amazing places and met a lot of special people. I had the pleasure of finally meeting the Dalai Lama, which was a very moving experience. We talked about Vaclav Havel, who is a major Czech footprint in contemporary history. His Holiness told me how much and why he respected him, and he said that they were good friends, and how much good he could have done if he had not died so early. At another stop, in the United States, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa – which is considered one of the meccas of Czechs and Slovaks in America – the center of the city is called New Bohemia, there is another part called the Czech village, there is a Czech and Slovak museum, etc.”
Kramarik is asked whether he has any similarly grand plans for the future. “One planet was enough for a circumnavigation,” he answers, “but a man without a dream is a dead man. I have plans, but rather than talking about them, I will see to have them turned into reality. However, now I will definitely focus entirely on work and our clients for some considerable time before I take any more time off to embark on another mission.”
This Article was originally published in Issue 5.9 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.