|The Uncommon Men, Time-CNN online article|
|To at least one contestant, though, the challenge lay in the flying, not
in the frills. Czechoslovak-born Mira Slovak, 39, clocked one of the slowest
transatlantic crossing times since Columbus175 hr. 42 min. 7 sec.
yet still won $2,400 for "the best performance in a plane weighing
under 5,000 Ibs." Slovak's aircraft was the smallest ever to cross
the Atlantic: an 860-Ib. German-made Fournier RF 4 glider powered only by
a 36-h.p. Volkswagen auto engine. Since the plane carried only 46 gallons
of fuel, he made frequent stops (longest hop: 1,000 miles from Labrador
to Greenland)but he never cut his power and simply glided. His 6-ft.
1-in., 175-lb. frame scrunched into the cockpit of the toylike craft, he
flew as low as 200 ft. to avoid bad weather, encountered such stiff headwinds
over Canada that "even the cars on the ground were passing me."
Among the dozens of publicity seekers and assorted kooks in the race, Slovak was one of the very few to whom such adventures are a way of life. A year ago, after picking up a plane in West Germany, he flew it back to the U.S. safely. Then just 19 ft. from the runway of his home field in Santa Paula, Calif., the plane was caught in a strong downdraft and slammed into the ground. Unconscious for the next week, Slovak suffered eleven broken bones in his left arm, a deep head gash, six broken ribs, a collapsed lung and intestinal injuries. While recuperating, he received an invitation to compete in the transatlantic race. "I thought it was a bad joke," he recalls. "But as the wounds healed, the bad feelings disappeared, and then I wanted to try things again."
The Wild Czech. Slovak's first truly memorable adventure occurred in 1953, when, as the youngest captain in the Czechoslovakian Airline, he hijacked a C-47 carrying 25 passengers and flew to West Germany. After eight months of interrogation by the CIA he was allowed to come to the U.S., where he worked for two years as a crop-dusting pilot in the Western states. In 1956, though he had never raced anything faster than a kayak, he took up hydroplane racing. Two years later, the "Wild Czech" was the national champion.
For relaxation, Slovak began stunt flying in World War II fighter planes, doing such tricks as flying upside down just 50 ft. above the ground with his hands dangling down. Soon he was gunning his growling Grumman Bearcat around 50-ft. pylons and, in the suicidal pastime of air racing, flying wing tip to wing tip at 400 m.p.h. In 1964, he became the national champion of that sport also. Cavorting in small planes, says Slovak, "helps me unwind and stop being a part of the computer. It makes me a better pilot when I get back to the big planes." The big planes are the 707 jets he pilots for a national airline whose name, he pleads, must be kept secret. Airline officials are fearful that passengers might feel a little uneasy if they knew that the Wild Czech was at the controls.
Basic Coward. They should not.