Glider champion plans around the world flight

For Czech pilot Hana Zejdova gliding is preferable to walking. She undertook her first solo flight at age 17 and today has 52 world records to her name -an unparalleled achievement on world scale. Constantly seeking new challenges in the sky, Hana is now dreaming of achieving the near-impossible - a flight around the world in a glider.

Last week Hana unveiled her plan to the press, colleague pilots and flying enthusiasts appealing for sponsorship and support in what will be a costly international project, estimated at some 400 million crowns. The bulk of the money will go to financing the construction of a unique glider tailored for this particular mission. According to its designer, the plane will be two to three times bigger than a regular glider, equipped with technology to fly at a height of over 20,000 meters in temperatures reaching - 50 degrees Celsius at a maximum speed of 700 km per hour in jet streams. A solar engine should serve only in the event of an emergency. Hana, who plans to fly around the world with a woman co-pilot, says she is hoping to set the record for the 100th anniversary of the International Flying Federation -that's in 2005. In the meantime she has several "interim" records on her agenda such setting a record continental flight and then crossing the Atlantic. When I met with her at her Prague press conference she was wearing a silver glider on a chain around her neck and it was clear that she was far more at home in the clouds than facing a barrage of reporters. She waved away her incredible accomplishments as something that anyone could do if they wanted to badly enough - and clearly had her eyes set on the future - the day that she would make that around the world flight. I asked her what it was like when she broke her first world record.

"It was great. It was the first world record after many, many years in our country and it was a great feeling."

What is it like up there - for you?

"It is a magic feeling. You know gliding is not only about achievements it is nice just to go up."

Do you think about danger at all when you are up there?

"I am a very careful pilot - you need to have respect but you cannot be worried. One could not make good decisions in such a state of mind. One must have respect but not fear."

At present two other teams are trying to achieve the goal that Hana Zejdova has set herself. One is led by Steve Fosset, who recently flew around the world in a balloon, the other is a German glider pilot from Stuttgart. Hana says the competition is fierce - but that for her part she's ready to cooperate. This will not just be an individual's victory - it will be a victory for mankind, she told journalists in Prague. The head of this project has complete faith in her - he is after all her father, Vladimir Zejda.

"I am a pilot, my wife was a pilot and our daughter wanted to be better than her parents."

So when did it all start?

"She flew her first solo flight when she was seventeen. That means she has been flying for twenty-three years. She has flown three and a half thousand hours and probably two hundred thousand kilometres - that means five times around the Earth."

What was it like for you when she broke her first world record?

"It was a very good feeling because when someone breaks a world record he or she are really the best in the world. That is a very good feeling - and when she broke her tenth record, twentieth, thirtieth and fifty second I was amazed. I never thought that was possible."

You are an experienced pilot and you are also her father. What advice do you give her when she gets into the cockpit?

"That is complicated. I think that my daughter is very independent. She has reached a higher level than I have. She is better than I am. That means I have to be very careful when giving advice. Nevertheless, I feel that I must give her advice. Always. That is necessary. But I have to be careful how I do it."

Another member of the team around Hana is meteorologist Mojmir Prokop. He claims to be the most "down to earth member of the entire team" - although his admiration for Hana's achievements is immense. With 52 world records to her name its hard to say no to this lady.

So Mr. Prokop, in your opinion is it possible to fly across the Atlantic on a glider with the technology available today?

"I think that long continental flights are possible, but not a flight over the Atlantic. At this time our knowledge of the weather conditions over the oceans are practically nil. We do not know exactly what happens in this so called jet stream, especially as regards the vertical speed of the moving air. And that is a principle question here. Is there enough vertical speed in the jet stream to propel a glider long distance? "

But you do support this project. Do you think it is a big risk to take?

"To tell the truth, I do not think it is possible at this point in time. Even with the best possible glider - even with a superb plane."

So Miss Zejdova is very brave and a pioneer basically?

"You know in four, five or six years things may be different. Our knowledge of the weather conditions over the ocean will improve, but whether they will suffice to assist such a project - a soaring flight overseas - that is hard to say." You are a glider pilot yourself are you not?

"My active years are over, but I want to say that there is no glider in this country to compare with Miss Zejdova. There is no one to rival her."

What qualities does a good pilot need?

"You need many qualities - you must have a natural talent for it. You must be in top physical and mental shape. And you must have very strong motivation. Without that it is not possible."

What is it like when you are finally up there, free as a bird?

"It is difficult to describe. But primarily it is a new form of existence. You are moving three dimensionally. You can change height, go faster or slower. You see the landscape below and it is different to what a walking man observes. For me it is a moment of absolute freedom. Freedom of movement. Freedom of thinking. It is a great joy."

So that is the power propelling gliders to forge into the unknown and Hana Zejdova is determined to achieve her ultimate goal step by step no matter how long it may take. If you'd like to send a message of encouragement her E-mail address is: hana@netbrno.cz