The Amazing Czech Republic (Finale)
2012 June 29 Fri: An Amazing Adventure Concludes
The Czech Republic is a truly beautiful place. I must confess to an expectation that it would be a less advanced
country. Maybe the communist history was lurking in my memory, but what I found, long before getting to
Nirvana (in Zlin) was far, far better than what I thought. They have cast aside
their fairly brief communist shackles and moved on. Good roads, clean housing, beautiful
cities, and innovative, hard-working people all around. Not to idealize
it, but I'll bet even the residents there don't know how good they've got
On to Nirvana. Boy do these guys know how to host! Pavel, Petr and crew are not just talented flyers and builders,
they are some of the planet's finest humans. After a warm welcome they
showed us their large and well organized paramotor
production facilities. They've got an impressively sized and organized
facility for both production and innovation. One of many things I love
about these folks is that they don't diss other gear. They make a
product they believe in, support it, and let the buyer decide. More on
all that later.
Then they insisted on treating us to some
Wed, June 27 Oh please, twist my arm. Like I'm not going to take them up on that?
After seeing their facility we headed for the toy box, a large hangar
full of aerial dessert: all the way from gyrocopters to motorgliders and
all only 12 minutes from their factory.
We put together a couple paramotors, along with my "Gabriel cam", and
were ready for action. Eric and Elisabeth got checked into the hotel
then came out with the car.
Before Eric got to the airport, Pavel took me up in his Gyrocopter, a
cool pod-like craft that's fully enclosed. This private airport is a
sport-aircraft sized runway with plenty of room for an autogyro with a
pre-rotator. It's been 30
years since I flew a gyrocopter, and that was only a brief tethered flight behind a car in a vintage Benson. But here we were,
cruising the low mountains, under
bright sunshine in the Republic's greenest greens, zooming up and
around, exploring the world in 3D.
He let me fly, which was cool (it's wonderfully balanced), but I
wasn't willing to put it through its paces like Pavel since I didn't
know its limits. So after a little of my boring control, he took it back
and the fun resumed. I love that kind of flying but want to know a
craft's limits before I engage in it.
This flight reminded me of my very first ultralight flight 30 years ago which,
ironically enough, was payment for observing gyro pilots for solo
signoff (strangely, as an airplane flight instructor it was legal to do
this). I took that Quicksilver out, followed the terrain, and just
marveled at the freedom. Surprisingly it wasn't until 1999 that I
rediscovered low and slow via paramotor. What a treat. What a craft,
too. This thing changes my perspective on gyrocopters. It's fully
enclosed, goes 100 mph and burns only 5 gph in the process. It does
require more runway than I thought in no wind but can stop nearly on a
Earlier in the day, when I'd asked if there was helmet I could tape
my camera to, they obliged in spades. Pavel offered up his old
helmet which engine guru Gabriel then whipped into a very nice helmet
cam. He scrounged up some rubber padding, drilled, ground the padding to
shape and made a rather nice solution in about ten minutes. Add a
piece of wire for framing and I was set. Gabriel, like Pavel, reminds of Mike Britt:
these little problems (I don't have a helmet mount) are mere (and minor) challenges.
After the Gyro flight, Gabriel came out with his paramotor and we
launched together while Pavel gave rides in the Gyro.
Gabriel guided me around for a while then had to leave. He was flying home. Yes,
he works at a paramotor factory (for 9 years) and occasionally
paramotors to and from work. I love these guys!
During the flight I even
got to fly loose formation with Pavel in the Gyro. I would have liked to
fly closer since I'm not worried about his wake from above and behind
but he was trying to be conservative, no doubt, and didn't want to scare
Great machine. I flew the Instinct which was in the top 5 smoothest
machines I've ever flown, up there with the Pollinis and Rotron 160.
They don't stop working on improving this stuff. It was powerful,
comfortable and efficient with the Simo 160. Eric took a quick flight on
it after I got back. What a hoot. But it was nothing compared to the
On to the tour.
Axis (Wed AM)
Yes, this is backwards, Axis Paragliders is where we started. They
area a smallish
paraglider constructor with two
main facilities, one for design and riser work another for cutting and
sewing. This was my first visit to see how paragliders are made so it
was fascinating. This is really why I originally wanted tag along.
It took us some work to find the right place but, after a small
walkabout and some questioning from neigboring businesses, we succeeded.
We imposed on a small group of
people working intently at their various tasks in a
loft-feeling space where designs are finalized and finishing work is
done. It's funny how our expectations can be so far off from reality.
It seemed a bit austere, probably because they were more interested in
getting their work done rather than entertaining non-Czech speaking
tourists. They were gracious, espeically given our linguistic
(especially mine) limitations, but there really wasn't much to see so so we headed up to their larger
facility where gliders are cut and sewn. There we received with a warm
welcome by the floor manager Oldrich Juricek.
Axis employs about 15 people including some who work from home making
various sub-assemblies. Their primary focus is free-flight gliders, as
evidenced by the fact that the two owners and designers were at a
paraglider competition, but their Power Pluto line sells pretty well.
Another misconception I had was that gliders are nearly all produced
in Sri Lanka or elsewhere and that is far from the truth for all makers.
They tend to have manufacturing spread between foriegn factories and
home. In this case, most of their gliders are built here while up to
60% are made elsewhere. But even then that doesn't always hold. If I
understand it right, Axis has moved their production back in house. That
may be a result of volume but even the much larger Sky Gliders, as we'll
see later, is building all their gliders there near Zlin.
It's impressive how much work goes into these gliders. I always
figured it was intensive but somehow thought there was more automation.
At Axis anyway, there is almost none. The fabric is hand cut and, like
all gliders, the work is done by intense ladies at sewing machines. Each
girl is responsible for exactly one glider -- there is no assembly line.
They do that so there's responsibility for each glider to better insure
quality. We'll come to see that all the shops are this way.
Axis has two facilities, one is a loft
office and work area where design work and line attachment is done among
Pictured above right is the larger facility where gliders are sewn. Some
gliders are made in other factories around the world, depending on
demand and quality. All these guys are, understandably, pretty picky
about quality and will bring production in-house if there's a problem.
It wouldn't take long before word of poor construction got around.
They consume a fair chunk of at least two floors in a large
industrial building along with a soundproof metal runup building where
they runup every engine that goes out and generate a report of the
results. They build many things besides paramotors although they're
mostly all related. It's a very ordered process and it seems like a very
good place to work as well as a great environment to produce consistent
They continue to make improvements and one thing I saw was really
exciting but strangely, lost in the moment, I didn't even mention it to
Pavel. They have a unit with an inner hoop that will go a LONG way to
protecting stray hands (see
this suggestion). Although they had it on the front of the netting
it can easily be put on the other side of the netting which would
improve protection. In fact, a picture in Paramotor Magazine shows one
of their units flying with this hoop netting going over it for maximum
protection. Nice job Nirvana!
Finding MacPara was easier although it's still buried in a really
interesting industrial maze of pipes leading to who knows where.
I didn't realize how much MacPara does -- they have a huge showroom
with free flight harnesses galore, all hanging from this cool
bungee-powered simulator that allows pilots to play as if they're under
a paraglider. Those competition harnesses, where your feet are all
tucked away, are sweet. Makes me want to do more free flying just so I
can use one of those. Knowing my luck I'd sink out anyway.
It's impressive the breadth of their line. Kind of like Nirvana--even
though I knew they made other stuff, seeing it all under one roof made
We had a great talk with MacPara's designer, mostly about reflex
wings. I marvel at the difference in approach for handling turbulence.
The free-flight guys tend to suggest pulling the trims in and flying
actively while the motor guys tend to suggest letting out the trims and
using no main brakes. A very few go so far as suggesting that, on the
most highly reflexed gliders, fast trim with full speedbar (still no
main brakes) is the safest bet. Just interesting about the different
MacPara has embraced the motor market but continues to innovate for
free flight as well. They are into efficiency which is especially
important for cross country free flight but benefits everyone. An
efficient wing has the same benefit as more horsepower without the need
for more petrol.
Of the glider shops we visited Sky is the biggest. They have two
enormous laser cutters and a room full of seamstresses working on their
many models in a very modern facility.
The big surprise was showing up and finding Bill Heaner there. What
was even bigger was finding out why he was there, or at least part of
the reason. It was to take over the entire line of wings for the U.S.
market, thus removing Dell Schanze. I asked if it was OK to publicize
that and both he and CEO Martin agreed. Cool!
Then we took a tour of the facility. Martin showed me the software
they use to optimize cutting efficiency, so much so that they don't
layer fabric, a technique used to cut multiple parts at once. Quite
We also talked about their direction in motor wings. They are
primarily free-flight paraglider makers but take the stand that, if you
make a good free flight wing, it will be a good motor wing. As such they
aren't currently planning a reflex wing geared towards the motor market
but will continue to innovate elsewhere.
They are also innovating in other areas that I'm told will be
revealed at St. Hilaire on Sept 20. It involves motors but not in the
way you might expect.
Epic Flight. Pure Epic.
After visiting Sky we headed for Nirvana. This would be my last night
and the weather looked perfect for a two-leg cross country planned by
Pavel. I haven't flown any real distance since my last Mexico trip with
Jeff Hamann so this promised to be unique.
There were 6 of us. Eric, Elisabeth, Pavel, Gabriel, a fellow who
joined us airborne and myself. This countryside, with its rolling hills,
is picture perfect for PPG because of they way you can interact with it.
And interact we did. I got some great footage, too.
Our target was a winery/hotel/restaurant but it was too far for one
leg so we landed at this little mowed patch and met up with Petr and
other ground crew.
Another really cool thing was having Sonny and Bud from Texas show up
there at the same time. They were actually doing a free flight clinic
with Chris Santacroce which may have been related to why Bill Heaner was
there, too, now that I think about it. They didn't fly this evening but
joined us at the hotel for the partying.
Traveling with Eric & Elisabeth
people are great fun. It almost doesn't matter what they're passionate
about. Jeff Hamann is passionate about Cactus, for example, and his
enthusiasm is contagious even though I'll never remember anything beyond
"don't land on them." Eric and Elisabeth are the same. Elisabeth about
quality paraglider work and Eric about flying.
Navigating the Czech Republic had many interesting moments but most
amusing was after departing Sky Gliders for Zlin (Nirvana). Anyone who
has relied on a car GPS will relate--they're far from 100% and, every
now and then, will take a trip into the tulips. So it was when GPS girl
got confused and kept telling us to do a U-Turn. The first clue that
something had gone awry was that she sometimes showed us off-oard. We
finally abandoned the GPS and resorted to good, old fashioned
navigation; i.e., we need to head southwest and here's a big road going
southwest. Thankfully, I had cached a google map on my phone and could
use the map, but not navigate, on my phone. That helped.
It was fun discussing our travels, the sport, and the possibilities
that still lay ahead.
All in all this was a most memorable trip and I think those who
welcomed us with such open arms.
Pavel, at right, may take his work
extremely seriously, but spend 10 minutes with him and you'll realize
that he rarely takes himself very seriously. But then that's one
of the reasons why he's so much fun to hang around with!