He was almost an architect. Already during the first pilot training, however, Petr Uhlíř felt that instead of drawing, he was more drawn to the rams. During 23 years of active flying, he tried everything possible from small planes to transports to helicopters. Today, he most often sits in the cockpit of a bizjet. He also has two veterans in the hangar that he takes care of in his spare time. One of them is the Boeing Stearman, an American biplane used to train pilots in World War II. We bring you the first part of the series Interview on the runway with pilot Petr Uhlíř.
Peter, tell us how you got into flying?
Thanks dad. Although he has always been an architect, his dream was to fly. And so he started with it after the revolution. I often went to the airport to see him. And he told me: "If you get into architecture, I'll pay for your training as well." I did it simultaneously with my father and brother. Of the three of us, I was the last to start training and the first to finish it. I also started flying as an instructor during my studies at school. I didn't finish school and defected from architecture to professional flying. It's been 23 years already. And dad recognized that I did well.
You have extensive experience with different types of aircraft. In the end you stayed with the bizjet. Why?
While in commercial flying most things are done by a computer, in business flying there is more freedom. That is also why I went down the path of business aviation. I can make a visual approach, turn off the autopilot, that's not possible with a commercial aircraft.
Another reason is the combination of flying and traveling. When I fly somewhere, I like to look there. And that is exactly what the aviation business enables me to do. This is also the difference compared to commercial flying. I have the opportunity to look at places that I wouldn't normally look that much. When possible, I often flew to Russia. In Europe, the business of flying is most commonly used by Russians, who fly a lot and all over the world.
But you were also involved in so-called flying over planes...
I got into ferry flying by working for a company that is a Piper aircraft dealer. It is made in Florida. When that plane is ordered, it needs to be delivered to the customers. This was commonly done by chartered pilots or companies. However, as an employee and pilot of the company, I had the opportunity to fly a few planes to Europe several times. I once flew a plane from Europe to Brazil. Or from the Czech Republic to Singapore and back. Such flights are also routinely flown in the business sphere, but it is a different type of aircraft.
What makes ferry flying so different?
In everything. If an engine fails while flying a ferry, and the plane goes into the water, the pilot must have a dry wetsuit and a boat ready. Moreover, the Atlantic Ocean is an inhospitable environment. And depending on the season, the pilot has a lifespan of maybe 3 minutes if it gets wet. Otherwise, the rescue can take a week on a boat. Even in other places, for example Scotland-Iceland, it is much more demanding with this type of aircraft.
What do you enjoy most about flying or airplanes in general?
Some pilots enjoy the technical side of flying, but I'm different. It is the whole process of flying and getting to know new people and new cultures that takes me. But not everyone likes this. It is one of the specifics of business flying. I'm more of a romantic who was led to fly by Saint-Exupéry. For me, the journey means the destination.
Are you more of a uniformed or civilian type?
I don't like the uniform very much. I prefer to wear a t-shirt and shorts. In America, for example, it is common for even corporate pilots to fly in relatively civilian clothes. On the other hand, for example, the Spanish and the southern states indulge in highly decorated uniforms. I like baseball , t-shirt and shorts . The uniform fashion has faded quite a bit, for example the frills are not gold, but silver. And overall, the uniforms are more decent.
You must have already looked at a nice line of airports. Is there one that you like to return to, that you like to remember? And vice versa, some where you don't like it?
I like airports that are more challenging. I don't enjoy myself too much in big airports. Small, cozy airports that can be reached on foot are more appealing to me. Among my favorites is, for example, Courchevel in France , where special training is required. You can fly there with the Pilatus PC-12. The airport is uphill and right next to the slope. The airport license is valid for six months from the last landing, so you have to fly there regularly, which is most often in winter. Then there are also interesting airports in Greenland, for example.
What machines do you have the closest relationship with?
I enjoy historic airplanes, where it's a completely different kind of flying. For commercial flying, just follow the procedures and the plane will do what it is supposed to do. I also tried helicopters, but that is a completely separate discipline.
In my spare time I fly a Boeing Stearman, a 1941 radial engine biplane. It's a completely different kind of flying with an open cockpit. One feels contact with the elements, like riding a motorcycle, only in the air. Then I have a Beechcraft Mentor. While the Stearman was a training aircraft for pilots of II. World War II, the Beechcraft Mentor was a training aircraft for pilots who were going to fly in Vietnam. The Beechcraft Mentor is quite a nimble aircraft. You have to feel both planes, there is no autopilot. You can't see anything from a Stearman when landing, it's much more challenging. I have a self-preservation instinct, but I need a challenge. That's why I prefer more demanding airports.
Have you always had a soft spot for vintage aircraft? And what got you?
I always liked them. And when I had the chance to try them on, I liked them even more. It is similar to vintage cars. Which of today's cars will be collected? Maybe some sports or custom cars. When I restore old cars or airplanes, I restore things that I can get my hands on. In modern times, I already change electronics. And electronics are getting old.
In the past I have occasionally bought some planes, enjoyed them and sold them again. It's not about owning planes for me, it's about enjoying them. And about the community of people around planes. There is a whole different community of people with vintage aircraft. They are all enthusiasts. And there are plenty of people who want to fly a biplane. So I have, for example, weekends where I take out 10 people a day.
What would you like to fly with someday, but you haven't had the chance to do so yet?
There's a lot of that. Most common warplanes. For example Spitfire, Mustang. In short, period airplanes. But there is a difference between just flying through something and actually flying with it. However, many of these planes are single-seaters, so it is necessary to have experience and build on a series of planes that will lead him to this. Just the same as it was done in the war.
And the Born To Fly brand is associated with military aircraft. That's why I like B2F t-shirts so much. It suits me for what I do as a hobby. One of the nicest t-shirts even features a Stearman. And when I go to the airport, among people who know what we are doing there, I always like to wear this T-shirt.