Crossing limits can cost us our lives when flying // Humans of NATO Days

04.02.2024, 09:02

He is the fifth Czech display pilot of the JAS-39 Gripen aircraft. In 2019, he took part in the Baltic Air Policing mission in Estonia and his total flight time is more than 2,000 flight hours, of which he has already flown more than 900 hours on the JAS-39 Gripen. What does his working day look like and what does NATO and courage mean to him? Not only these questions were answered by Captain Ondřej Španko, display pilot of the JAS-39 Gripen aircraft and member of the 211th Tactical Squadron.

How do you evaluate the ongoing NATO Days in Ostrava?
Very positively. There are excellent facilities and a very varied programme for the audience. I'm happy to be able to perform here and I'm looking forward to the displays of my colleagues.

How many times have you already participated in the NATO Days?
I'm thinking… it's about the fourth time actually. I was here for the first time as a display pilot on the L-39 Albatros, I think it was in 2009. Then I performed here in 2014 as a display pilot on the L-159 Alca and now I am here for the second time with the JAS-39 Gripen.

What does NATO mean to you?
I always think of the "We are NATO" motto. We are really one of the parts of this alliance, and our colleagues from other countries are our partners, with whom we try to cooperate as much as possible so that we are always united, interoperable, and ready to defend our territory and that of our partners.

What does your typical working day look like?
My working days tend to be varied. Some I spend on duty as part of the NATINAMDS emergency system. Such a working day begins one morning and does not end until the following day. Other times I participate in flight events where we are dedicated to training and maintaining pilot qualifications. This working time is classically around eight hours, however, with different exercises, it can stretch up to fourteen. It usually takes place by first listening to various briefings on the weather, the state of aviation equipment and security, followed by preparation, planning and then the flight itself. As standard, we train more or less complex tactical scenarios according to the needs and state of the equipment. This is followed by a debriefing, a careful evaluation of the flights, and thus our working day ends. I spend several weeks a year on exercises abroad or as a performer at air shows. Some days are more administrative, other days we spend on ground and military preparation. Even though I'm a pilot, I'm still a soldier and I have to fulfil the duties associated with it.

Read more interviews with other people participating at the NATO Days

What does courage mean to you?
I appreciate that in everyone who can find it in himself. And every professional soldier must also have this, because the reason why we are here is to protect our country. Peace and security cannot be taken for granted. And if necessary, we must all gather our courage and risk our own lives.

What comes to your mind when you hear about crossing limits and how often do you have to cross them in your profession?
Crossing limits when flying is generally not a wise thing to do. Exceeding the basic technical parameters of the aircraft can serve as an example, which could have catastrophic consequences. So, I cannot and would not like to cross such limits. On the other hand, the moment I hit my own personal limits, I take it as a challenge and try to push the limits further and further. This is a necessary ingredient for your own personal growth.

Who inspires you?
I could probably find a lot of such people, but the first group that comes to my mind are Czech pilots from the Second World War. They must have had a lot of courage. They left their families, overcame countless obstacles and began to fight for our country and freedom. They just went to do the right thing by risking everything they had. Their actions are very inspiring not only to me, but I'm sure to all my colleagues as well.

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