Roman Kramařik’s Mission Winged Lion
By Neelima Agrawal
It is remarkable indeed, what one man flying solo around the world in a little plane, can achieve for his country. When Roman Kramařik, a Czech lawyer, decided to take a six-week break from his profession to indulge his passion for flying, he dedicated it to his country. His historic journey circumnavigating the planet is a first of its kind ever by a Czech pilot. Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Czechoslovak independence, the journey called the Mission Winged Lion, commenced on 25th July, 2018 when Kramařik took off from the Tocna airfield outside of Prague in a tiny six seater, single engine Cessna P210N made in 1979.This may sound akin to a back packer taking off on a long trip, improvising as he went along. But Kramařik’s journey took months of preparation. I know, because, thanks to the Embassy of Czech Republic in Delhi, I got to meet him when he arrived in Delhi, en route, already having travelled through Servia, Israel, Jordan, Dubai and Pakistan. The interaction was enriching, as he shared his many stories, his inspiration, the goals of his mission, his experiences. He pointed out the significance of the name ‘Mission Winged Lion’. Such as, the Coat of Arms of the Czech Republic bears a dancing lion with two tails. Also, in Prague, there is a Winged Lion Memorial dedicated to the brave Czechoslovak airmen who had fought the Nazis in World War-II. The Cessna P210N bears the iconic matriculation OK-TGM, which happen to be the initials of the founding father and first Czechoslovak president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. Roman Kramanic shared that as he planned this commemorative journey, he had two agendas in mind – 1) to remind his countrymen and everyone else, about the many achievements of Czech Republic and Czechoslovakia; 2) map the Czechoslovak footprints in the countries and cities he is visiting, remind and reignite the emotional connection.
Indeed, we had forgotten or did not several details about Czech Republic . His Excellency Mr Milan Hovorka, the Ambassador of Czech Republic in Delhi, shared many nuggets of information along with Roman. For instance, the connection of Rabindranath Thakur with Czechoslovakia. Rabindranath visited Prague in 1920, where he met Vincenc Lesny, a professor of Indology and Iranian studies at Charles University of Prague.
Lesny went on to teach German to the students at Visva-Bharati while he learnt Bengali himself. He was enchanted by Rabindranath’s poetry and in 1914 published the first ever translation of Rabindranath’s works in a foreign language, a book in Czech ‘Rabindranath Thakur :Ukazy Poesie A Prosy’.
The famous shoe brand Bat’a (pronounced ‘Baacha’ in Czech),was founded by a Czechian. As far back as in 1920, the ninth-generation Czech shoemaker Tomas Bata visited southern India to source rubber and leather for his footwear factories, and spotted the huge market right away as most people were bare-footed.
Another Czechian brand, Škoda, now better known for its cars, also manufactures locomotives, aircraft, ships, machine tools, steam turbines and equipment for power utilities. Skoda turbine are used in many Indian power plants. In the 1950’s the popular Jawa motorcycles arrived in India, with manufacturing units set up in erstwhile Mysore in 1960. Many don’t recall that it was a Czech brand. Jawa is due to make a return to India with Mahindra, after having exited in the 90s. The leading Czech finance firm in India, Home Credit, has spread to 120 cities. Roman was excited about being in India, where there is a long list of Czech successes. That too despite the combined population of Czech and Slovak being just under 16 million. Delhi has a population of 25 million at last count.
This mission to fly solo around the world in just 46 days, touching three continents, 11 countries is a feat not for the faint hearted or untrained persons. Roman is a lawyer by profession, but is also a fully trained pilot, who has been flying since the age of 14. It would not be wrong to say that flying was in his DNA, since his grandmother was a trained pilot. She inadvertently planted the seed for this trip long ago, by gifting him a book written by Jan Antonin Baťa, who in 1937 had circumnavigated the globe in a Lockheed 10A Electra. Bat’a had written about his own solo flight around the world. Young Roman was inspired to do the same one day and wanted to grow up and become an aircraft designer and engineer. Unfortunately, by the time he was ready for it, the Communist Czechoslovakia Socialist Republic dissolved into the formation of a democratic Czech Republic and Slovak Socialist Republic in 1993, following a bloodless Velvet Revolution.
The facilities where he could train as a pilot were in Solovakia, and Kramařik opted to study Law instead. Undeterred, he kept on pursuing his passion. He has been flying for 30 years.
His onward journey from Delhi was to Thailand, Japan, USA, Azores, UK and back home to Prague. While in Delhi, he spent his time visiting Bat’a factories, and exploring the city. Roman said, “ I sincerely wish that if my grandchildren set-off to circumnavigate the world again on the occasion of 200th anniversary, they find India as peaceful, humane and prosperous as I have found it today.” Speaking about flying into the subcontinent during the monsoon season, Roman said that as he arrived towards India, miraculously he found a window in the cloud cover, allowing him to land. The toughest leg of his journey will be over the Pacific.
The encounter had us wanting to travel to Czech Republic and get to know its people. To make it easy to apply for visas, the Embassy has set up 16 Visa centers across the country. Time to book a direct flight to Prague. No, I am definitely not flying solo like Roman Kramařik.