Recently I forwarded a PowerPoint collage of some beautiful picture of Slovakia to my friend Sieg. Sieg responded with the following question. As I was reading it, memories and emotions started to flood in, and I decided to share my answer to Sieg with all of you.
Very nice indeed! So why did you have to leave? You know I always confuse Slovakia with Slovenia, home of the famous Pipistrel. But now I looked it up, now I know. Wouldn’t be nice to fly in those mountains with your Piper? You could land uphill on many of those pictures.
Thanks again, Sieg
I did not have to leave; I just gave up on the country after the Russian invasion in 1968. That was the catalyst. I wanted to leave ever since I was very young. There were many reasons, but the main one was that I was not allowed to fly. My dad escaped the country in 1949, and that left a black mark on me. I was considered to be a high risk, follow my dad’s example, and leave as well. The close proximity to Austria and West Germany would apparently make it way too easy for me. I was not even able to fly gliders, or skydive. I guess they were affair that I may steer the parachute across the border somehow. I know so many people from there, who left Czechoslovakia that year, but their heart and soul is still there – how sad.
When I first came to Canada, I would have nightmares for at least a year. I would dream that I was back in Czechoslovakia, trapped there, and not being able to come back to Canada. I would wake up drenched in sweat. Canada became my beloved home almost from the day one, and it still is today. Canada gave me what my country of birth denied me – the freedom of flight. I feel like a kid who escaped cruel and abusive parents, and found a foster family, that was kind and loving, and eventually adopting me for their own child. I became Canada’s child as soon as I was able to become its citizen. My attachment to Canada is so strong, that I cannot go through listening to the Canadian Anthem without tears in my eyes. In fact, my eyes are swelling with tears as I write this.
Yes, Canada gave me what Czechoslovakia denied me. I coined the phrase in the head banner of this blog many years ago. It truly reflects how important flying is to me. Without Canada, I would have died without living my dream. Thank you Canada.
With my brand new pilot’s license in my hand, I was ready to go on and start enjoying the part of the vast space around us which only the birds enjoy. I was dreaming of having my own plane one day. I considered all options available to me, but all would require sums of money I didn’t have. As a newcomer to Canada, I experienced the two most annoying road blocks of new immigrants seeking employment – language barrier and lack of local employment history. Even though I was qualified in electronic and mechanical design fields, making cardboard boxes for $2.50 an hour was the best I could do at the time. My prospects of ever owning my own aircraft were not very good.
Since I couldn’t get a better paying job, I decided to start my own business. After all, all business owners are rich, no? I greatly underestimated the amount of money, tenacity, and mostly time, it would take to just stay alive. There were times when the $2.50 per hour looked awfully good to me. Years went by, fantastic wife, two great boys, and several dogs and businesses later, I was getting older, still no money to speak of, and still no dream plane. Worst of all, 30+ years hiatus from the enjoyment of flying left my logbook kinda dusty.
As much as I was dreaming of flying before my first flight, when I eventually started my training I wasn’t sure if I am going to make it. Yeah, when the air was smooth, the going was good, but when the mid-morning, early spring, turbulence materialized courtesy of freshly ploughed fields, I would quickly resemble one of those green, extra terrestrial, creatures from sci-fi movies. There is a particular Cherokee 140 that has my DNA imbedded in its panel; it only happened once though.
It happened after some extensive aerial work with my instructor Greg on board. On the final approach I just couldn’t hold it. I asked Greg to take over for me, and well, you can make your own conclusion on what happened next. All I have to say is that Greg was a perfect gentleman, even though he didn’t fared much better than the Cherokee. I was so embarrassed that I asked him to let me out on the taxi way. I then walked down to the nearby river, and I didn’t stop until I was chest deep in the water. It was the middle of summer. I am not sure anymore, but there may have been the urge in me to continue the walk to spare myself from having to face Greg.
My sympathy must also go to the poor controllers. Being in Canada for only a short time, and since I couldn’t say a word of English before my arrival here, it must have been a challenge for them to communicate with me. I’m sure of that, since half the time I had no idea what they were asking me to do. I mostly relied on my memory of going through the flight procedures close to the airport. I learned that while flying with my instructor, and somehow I faked it through. There is the slight possibility that the controllers cleared all the traffic from the vicinity of the airport when I was flying solo.
Life was simpler then. The control zones were round, and communications with the controllers were less complicated. Those were the good-all-days. I do like the flight following available to us these days, however. It just may be that my English got better over time, so it is easy for me to actually understand what’s going on.
For many years, in fact since I was able to walk, I think, I was dreaming of flying. There were many reasons I was not able to fulfill my dream until I came to Canada. I am 67 years young now, and I am finally living my dream. No, I’m not a wealthy man. I just made the decision to do it, and I hope that some of you who may read this will not wait as long as I did.
Soon after I arrived in Canada from my native Czechoslovakia, I enrolled with a local flying school to learn to fly. The year was 1970. Flying was incredibly expensive then. My favourite plane, the venerable Piper Cherokee 140 was going for $18 per hour, and instructor’s presence set me back another $5. That may not sound like much, but I was making $2.50 per hour before taxes. As I said, flying was expensive. It took me three years of scraping every dollar before I finally earned my Private Pilot License.