27 Mar 2024

Travelling ultra-light: new FAI distance record by Jiří Pruša and Eliška Kudějová

Czech pilots Jiří Pruša and Eliška Kudějová climbed into the Shark 600 on 23 August 2023, slipping off their shoes to further reduce the aircraft’s weight, in addition to the kilos they had already shed through dieting in the run up to the flight. After a thwarted previous attempt in May, every last gram mattered to the pair’s mission: to beat the record of 1036.073km for ‘Distance in a closed circuit without landing’ set by Hungarian pilot Krisztian Dolhai in 2020. They beat his record by a substantial 876km.

Careful planning

The meticulously planned route took them from the Czech Republic through Germany and Poland to Slovakia. A mini celebration took place in the cockpit as they cruised past the 1036km mark, safe in the knowledge they had plenty of fuel to make a substantial gain on the previous record. In the end, they achieved a total distance of 1912.2km during the 9 hours 22 minutes flight.

The planned route 

As Jiří explains, “The weight was a very important aspect to consider. To set an FAI record we had to be two in the cockpit and the Shark 600 has two 75 litre tanks. The total weight of the aircraft, crew and fuel could be a maximum of 600 kg. So given the weight of the crew, we could take approximately 140 litres of fuel. To reduce drag, Jiří gave the Shark a good polish before take-off!”

A pre-flight polish for the Shark 600

“On a closed circuit trip, fuel is difficult to estimate as you cannot plan for headwinds and must leave safety margins.” He explains that for the Shark 600, 8 litres is the minimum legal requirement of fuel reserve at landing, which provides around 30 minutes of flying time.

Eliška, who at the age of 17 is already quite an experienced pilot, also helped with the planning process. She monitored the performance of the aircraft and communicated with the ground crew during the flight.

Take off team Jiri Prusa Eliska
The take off team with Eliška Kudějová and a shoe-less Jiří Pruša!

The first attempt in May did not meet FAI record requirements, but the flight path was a success with a distance of 1919km recorded. Hopes were therefore high for this second attempt. Take-off went smoothly in perfect weather, although there were backup plans in place should the headwind have proven to be problematic. 

Moral support

Part of the intended route was to perform a flyover above the site in Slovakia where the Shark 600 is made. Jiri’s aircraft, OK-BUG 11, was joined in the air by two fellow Shark aircraft who also filmed the adventurers. Over Poland, another Shark belonging to the Polish Shark aircraft distributor, teamed up with Jiří and Eliška to fly together for around an hour. 

tygrikovaletka scheme Tiger Squadron
Eliška Kudějová and Jiří Pruša with Olin the tiger.

Eliška was also permitted to bring a friend on board! The tiger mascot is Olin, and he is part of the tiger squadron, a scheme to encourage children to discover the world of aviation

She explains: “He is a motivation especially for young kids to get interested in things around aviation and shows them how far they can go. This tiger flies not only around the Czech Republic in all kinds of different planes and experiencing lots of things like our record.”

Jiří Pruša and Eliška Kudějová CZE

Jiří’s perspective

Jiří Pruša is editor of the Czech Flying Revue website and is well known for his adventures, having flown to 1368 airports in dozens of countries on five continents, which he believes to be a record. A map of the airports can be found here

Author of numerous air sports books, he has clocked up 3500 flight hours to date and flies everywhere with a 360-degree camera. He meticulously documents each journey, photographing and filming his experiences landing on the world’s most challenging runways or flying above the most spectacular landscapes. That is, except as in Greenland: “When you’re fighting for survival, you don’t have time to take pictures!”

He thus holds a unique archive of aerial footage from Europe, the USA + Alaska, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand and Africa. 

How long have you been flying?

I started fly gliders from the age of 14. Then around 15 years ago, I went to the US to get my PPL. Since the Czech Republic became part of Schengen, it has made international flight a lot easier. Also GPS makes navigation a great deal simpler and safer.

When did you get the Shark?

I have had it for about two years, it’s the best aircraft ever! It’s one of the two or three fastest in the category (The Shark was the first UL aircraft in history to break the 300 km/h mark in horizontal flight - Ed). It will be with me at the Friedrichschafen Aero show from 17-20 April, if any readers would like to come and see it!

What’s your next adventure?

Although it wouldn’t be an FAI record because I would have to do it alone, I believe I can fly a distance of around 3000km. I have already flown Rekjavik to Prague alone with the turtle pack which was a long flight, but this would be around 18 hours in the cockpit, so it’s a question of physical endurance. Ultra Light aircraft registered in the Czech Republic are not permitted to fly at night so I am considering flying from Alta in the arctic circle in Norway, to Rome, Italy, to give me plenty of daylight hours. It would again be the first time anyone has flown 3000km in this category aircraft.

Jiri and Eliszka record
Eliška Kudějová and Jiří Pruša next to the Shark with Olin the tiger.

Eliška’s perspective

Eliška, currently 17, has already had experience flying ultralights, powered hang gliders and gliders.

How did you get into flying?

I got into flying through my father, who encouraged me to do it from a young age. I flew with ultralights and then a powered hang glider with him. I officially started training at the age of 12 on gliders at a small airport in the south of the Czech Republic. I was very supported by my family, but also by the friends and flying instructors I met at the airport.

What were the highlights of the flight for you?

A highlight for me would probably be the landing. The feeling that we had successfully flown the record and finally being able to go the toilet and get some snacks was simply priceless! There was also a very nice mountainous landscape in Slovakia.

Eliška Kudějová in the cockpit

Do you know many other young women with pilot’s licences?

Yes, I know a lot of young female pilots. It seems to me that a lot of women have started flying in the last few years, which is only good. If any woman reading this wants to start flying, I would like to say that there is definitely nothing to be afraid of. It's a wonderful sport, hobby, job, life. You just have to start!

What’s your next adventure?

I'd be happy to take part in any other record attempts. But now my priority is gliding, which I have grown to love. I am currently studying in high school and I plan to go on to university. I would like to study meteorology or aviation in general. I'll see how it goes, nothing’s certain yet!

FAI congratulates Jiří and Eliška on their achievement and wishes them both best of luck for their future adventures!

The team celebrates a successful mission

Images: Jiří Pruša