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Tactical flying is a team sport // Humans of NATO Days

05.02.2023, 18:24

Capt. Aleš Svoboda always knew he wanted to become a fighter pilot. He has followed his dream since childhood and is currently fulfilling it at the 21st Tactical Air Force Base as a JAS-39 Gripen pilot. In November 2022, he succeeded in the selection process and became a member of the European Space Agency's reserve team of astronauts, but we did not know this in September.

You didn't see him fly at the NATO Days in Ostrava & Czech Air Force Days, but you could hear him as a commentator on the displays of some combat aircraft. Of course, our questions revolved around them, Gripen, and his dream.

 

What was your path to the military and air force?
I've always wanted to be a fighter pilot and the only "company" that has fighter jets is the military. So I signed up to study at the University of Defense in my fourth year of high school. That was, and still is, the only option to become a military pilot. After graduating from the university, the path led to the Flight Training Center in Pardubice and the L-39 aircraft, then I moved to Čáslav via the air base in Náměšť. I started there on the L-159 fighter and since 2016 I have been flying the Gripen.


Read also interviews with other people participating at NATO Days

So you piloted three machines. How long does it take for an airman to get used to them?
It depends on the specific type. It was different on the L-39, different on the L-159. The Gripen is a modern aircraft and flying it itself is relatively simple thanks to the fly-by-wire control system, i.e. the digital flight control system. The person is not there to just pilot the plane, but it frees up enough mental capacity to carry out the combat task. He can thus devote himself to tactical decision-making, working with radar, with datalink, communication and so on.

Retraining for the Gripen took place in Sweden, where we completed a number of simulator flights, various theoretical lectures and centrifuge training. But there were only about three flights with an instructor in the plane, the fourth flight was already solo. From this you can get the idea that flying itself is not something that one would have to practice for a very long time.

So how long does such a path to the Gripen cockpit take?
It took me 11 years, counting from 2005, when I entered the University of Defense. First three years of bachelor's studies and then there was flight training. As I already said, we started with the L-39 aircraft, first at the Flight Training Center in Pardubice, but then also on another version of the same aircraft in Náměšť nad Oslavou, or at the Čáslav base.

After the next phase on the L-159, there was a selection of people who either continued on to the Gripen or stayed on the L-159. I started flying the Gripen when I was 30, I think I was probably the youngest pilot at that time. This was also helped by the fact that the air force was trying to lower the age of Gripen pilots, and this led to the fact that a few people were unfortunately skipped and our turn came a little earlier.

As for the requirements and flight experience, if I'm not mistaken, we had to have flown at least 500 jet hours and be a 1st class pilot.

What is it about flying that attracts you and makes you so happy?
For me, every flight on the Gripen is interesting. At the NATO Days you could see, for example, a display of in-flight refueling, that is one of the more interesting things. However, I enjoy the more complex tasks, the more complex missions, in which dozens of planes participate. Tactical flying is a team sport. It's about integrating the capabilities of the individual aircraft together and working as one when there are a large number of different types of aircraft and pilots of different nationalities in the air. Piloting and the flight itself is also very interesting, but I like the complexity the most.

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