Vintage Czech aircraft reaches North Pole

Petr Bold and Richard Santus, photo: CTK

At the weekend two Czech pilots made history by flying a vintage Czech aircraft to the North Pole. The small twin-engine plane known as the Morava L-200 flew first took flight 50 years ago and the duo of Petr Bold and Richard Santus wanted to mark the anniversary by flying to the pole, stopping off for refuelling at the Russian base of Barneo. Preparing for the 11-hour journey meant preparing for the dangers of poor visibility, buffeting winds and even the possibility of an emergency landing among polar bears. Luckily, everything went off without a hitch. The duo reached the pole, successfully refuelled at Barneo, and are now in Norway before the last leg of their journey. Jan Velinger spoke to pilot Richard Santus by phone to Svalbard, asking him what it was like to reach the North Pole.

“Yeah, definitely it was exciting! It was good, very good, from Prague all the way from Prague up to Svalbard and then the North Pole. All the way up, we could see hundreds of kilometres but right overhead half of the Pole was covered by low clouds. Looking down you could see the white countryside but of course there is no flag at the centre because it’s moving constantly. So your only proof is GPS, so we spent between 2 - 4 minutes over the North Pole, with the meridians changing quickly. We did tell ourselves we were lucky that the low clouds weren’t over Barneo air base because we had no choice but to land there because we had barrels of fuel there for refuelling. If there had been clouds we would have had to land there – an emergency landing – and that would have been a problem.”

Petr Bold and Richard Santus, photo: CTK
Much of course has been made of the fact that this was an historic flight for the L-200 Morava – how did the plane actually perform?

“Well, surprisingly there weren’t even any minor problems with the plane. The aircraft itself was prepared well many weeks before by specialists with some adjustments to the engine and avionics. So we really believed that the plane would make it and it did. Now we’re at Svalbard with some 2,500 kilometres to fly home but we believe it will hold up, just as it did at the North Pole. For this type of airplane it’s really fast. We have to keep in mind that it was developed 50 years ago but it’s still a really good airplane.”

Morava L-200, photo: CTK
Obviously you still have to return to the Czech Republic: are you planning anything similar to this flight in the future?

“It might happen that when we get back home and rerun to ordinary tasks that we might consider something to maybe celebrate Czech airplanes and Czech aviation.”