Life 10 Km Above Earth

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“My father told me that if I beat him at two competitions in a row, he would stop competing. So I  keep jokingly saying that I must give him a handicap”, laughs Kamil Wieczorek, student of aeronautics and astronautics at the Faculty of Power and Aeronautical Engineering of the Warsaw University of Technology. He began flying 7 years ago; now, he is a member of the Polish National Flying Team and works as a pilot of passenger planes.

We meet at the Warsaw Aero Club in Bemowo. It was here, in 2009, that 18-year-old Kamil began his flying adventure. We might even venture to say that he was doomed to such profession. Of his family – his father, brother, uncles and cousins are flying. It’s one of the best-known aviation families in the country, with multiple champions of Poland, Europe and the world among them. “When I was a child, my father would take me to competitions and half of the competitors there were my ‘uncles’, and now I’m competing with them at those events”, says Kamil.

Flying Clan

Szymon, Kamil’s brother, is also a pilot. Both followed in the footsteps of their father, Krzysztof, who is a multiple medallist of Polish and European rally and precision flying championships. He individually won 19 medals at the World Air Games and the World and European Flying Championships. Krzysztof Wieczorek is the brother of Wacław and Marian Wieczorek.

Marian, the eldest brother, is the first pilot in the family. He is jokingly called the “Superwieczorek”. The prize-winning pilot began his flying adventure in 1971. He is working as a B787 captain and instructor at LOT Polish Airlines. His son, Marcin, is training to become a pilot at the Polish Air Force Academy in Deblin.

The third brother, Wacław (died in 2011), was a multiple champion of the World, Europe and Poland in precision and rally flight. He was a distinguished instructor and teacher of many pilots and, like his brothers, flew with LOT Polish Airlines. His son, Michał, has been a member of the national team for a few years now, and he also achieved international successes. He flies for Ryanair.

During holiday family meetings, it’s difficult to doubt that the ladies don’t have an easy life. Although Basia, daughter of Marian and the sister of Marcin, has recently begun to… fly gliders as the first woman in the Wieczorek family. Who knows, maybe she’ll join the team of champions soon.

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Aero Club in Bemowo, phot. BPI

 

Flying with the Best

Kamil is the current junior champion of Poland in precision flying. This year, in September, he also participated in the 20th World Rally Flying Championship in the city of Santa Cruz, Portugal. About 60 teams from 18 countries competed for prizes at this picturesque location. Including, naturally, the Wieczorek family. Marcin and Michał Wieczorek won a silver medal in the Unlimited category, they also contributed to winning the team silver medal. Kamil and his father Krzysztof placed 7th.

Kamil has also been a LOT pilot for a year now. He flies Embraers (170, 175 and 195), mainly over Europe. He admits that flying people on such an altitude is a great responsibility, but he’s prepared for it both emotionally and theoretically. “There’s a certain set of abilities that are used during each flight. Obviously, though, sometimes the weather is worse, there are storms, conditions at the airports also vary, so we can’t say that all flights are the same”, he explains.

Each candidate for a passenger plane pilot is required to pass an aviation knowledge exam, an oral English exam, an interview with the committee and is obligated to undergo many hours of psychological evaluation. After getting in, more training follows: theoretical, on flight simulators, and finally – flying with an instructor. To date, Kamil has completed about 500 hours on sport planes and 800 hours on passenger planes.

I simply had to ask him about controlling all these dials, indicators, buttons in the cockpit. “I sometimes see photos of old planes and also wonder how they were able to master it”, Kamil laughs. “In reality it’s not that scary. Technology has made a huge leap, and cockpit ergonomics increased significantly along with it. So, nowadays, we don’t see navigators, radio operators or technicians in the cockpit. Nothing out of the ordinary happens during a normal flight. If any indicator shows discrepancies, we react. Of course, we train for situations when everything suddenly goes wrong using simulators, and we have to manage such things”.

Championships or Studies?

Kamil Wieczorek studies aeronautics and astronautics. The studies are mostly focused on the engineering part of aviation, not on piloting, and reconciling these studies with such passion is not easy at all.

In April 2015, he learned about the recruitment at LOT. “As soon as the announcement was published, I locked myself at home and began studying”, Kamil reminisces. “I admit, I hardly ever showed up to classes. In May, I was told that I got the job; in June, I began training, so I didn’t even attempt summer exams. All that training took so long, that I didn’t have time to prepare for September exams either”.

So, Kamil’s progress in his studies was at best uneven. “The winter semester is always much easier because there are no championships then. This only leaves work and studies to reconcile. It’s even worse in spring and summer, because there are championships”, explains Kamil.

It’s no wonder that arranging this young pilot’s schedule is a really difficult task; on the other hand, atypical work schedule enables him to continue his studies.

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Today Kamil is no longer a member of the Warsaw Aero Club, but he returns here with fondness, showing us the machines on which he had been learning to fly. The first plane which he attempted to fly was a Cessna 150 – a two-seater training and tourist plane, often used for private flights and in basic aviation training. Kamil is also trained to fly gliders. “It’s easier with gliders, because when you take off, you already know you don’t have an engine”, he jokes. “And what can you do when a regular plane’s engine stops working?”

When we asked him what really turns him on about flying, he couldn’t find a definitive answer. “Sunrises and sunsets, starry skies and European capitals shimmering at night are the most amazing aspects of flying”, says Kamil. “Each flight is also a different team, a possibility to meet many great people. There’s this feeling that you’re a part of something exceptional. It’s simply a style of life that really suits me.”

Who would he be if he hadn’t become a pilot? “I would work in air traffic control”.

Interviewer: Monika Bukowska

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