When Legend Flies with Legend

Interview with S. Sklenář to BUSHMAN

„L 410 from Kunovice is the best aircraft in the whole world.” It must be true if the legend among the test pilots, Stanislav Sklenář, declares this about legendary Turbolet manufactured by the company LET which is located in Kunovice.

Last year the company Aircraft Industries, former LET Kunovice, celebrated 50th anniversary of the legendary Turbolet L 410. Stanislav Sklenář stated, “L 410 is constructed with love, produced with care, and the test flights are done respectfully.” Fabulous test pilot from LET Kunovice would not change a word in this statement: “I have flown around 50 different types of aircraft, claiming that our aircraft from Kunovice are the best around the world from the point of flight characteristics.

Stanislav Sklenář knows the ropes of L 410. In 1976 he became the first test pilot in LET Kunovice, almost after the 7 years on the day of the first Turbolet take-off. Although he is 78 years old, he is still the test pilot and even after working 44 years for one company, there is no hint for retirement.

BUSHMAN: How did you get to Kunovice for the position of the first test pilot?

SKLENÁŘ: I worked here as a chief of aeroclub and when there was a need to fly L 410 or gliders I worked part-time. Since 1976 I have worked here as a chief test pilot including the last version of L 410 NG.

BUSHMAN: What is more exciting, to pilot glider or airplane?

SKLENÁŘ: Pilots of the gliders have respect because they need to pay attention to get to the airport. Flying the airplane is similar because the motors might stop working so it is essential to have an airport within easy reach, alternatively meadow or field. Nevertheless, the gliders were fully manufactured here because they were crucial for the aeroclubs and were sold abroad. There were produced around 3,000 gliders due to our big assembly-line production. Everyone was satisfied with those. A large part of U.S. military pilots began with the gliders, they were also in the aeroclubs in Russia, former Soviet Union, anyway the gliders are all around the world.

BUSHMAN: How a man can become the first test pilot?

SKLENÁŘ: It is all about experience. I had around 2,500 flying hours and knew a little about piloting. Firstly, I became the part of the theoretical training where you get to know all the systems, motors, propellers and then in 1976 I started practical training. As the first pilot I worked with aircrafts such as “Blaník”, “Čmelák” or other small aircraft, concerning L 410 I took up as the first and second pilot. In 1976 there were three of us and we took turns on both positions. Taking turns ensures that the person pays more attention and the other one checks on him. I was around 30 years old; my colleagues were in their 50’s, I was learning and gaining experience by then.

BUSHMAN: Is there anything specific for testing flight?

SKLENÁŘ: Yes, the flight is prepared with the detailed schedule including the activities which need to be tested. This contains testing propellers, motors or navigation one by one though. The flight schedule is planned by testing room which makes a list of the activities that is needed to be done during the test flight. This is how the test flights work.

BUSHMAN: Isn’t it boring? Aren’t you sometimes in a mood to do other stuff during the flight?

SKLENÁŘ: Feel like doing something is one thing, however the test flight is clearly planned and you have to stick to the plan. Nevertheless, the different situation is when the plane is showed to the clients. There are done unusual activities with the aircraft such as using just one motor, stopping both motors, so that the client imagine how the aircraft works and which other actions are connected, mainly is to show that the aircraft is the best in the world.

BUSHMAN: Do you have any experience with competition?

SKLENÁŘ: Sure thing, I have piloted around 50 different planes so I am able to compare. From the point of flight characteristics, I feel that L 410 from Kunovice is the best in the world. Sometimes these aircrafts are able to forgive the pilot’s fault.

BUSHMAN: Did L 410 NG go through enormous development in comparison with the previous types?

SKLENÁŘ: The pilots can realize the development after seeing the cockpit. At the beginning, all the devices were round, analogue, there were speed and altitude displayed on the scale. After some time, some devices stayed round and other became digital. It was done step by step and every new version was more and more digital, now in L 410 NG there are around 85 % digital devices. Apart from the cockpit there are other advantages of L 410 NG such as better performance, mainly range of flight and endurance, both of these technical specifications enlarged twice their size. Improved wing with integrated fuel tank made these changes possible. The most visible constructional adjustment is lengthened nose of the aircraft in which is bigger luggage compartment. Even motors went through the modification which means that they are more powerful.

BUSHMAN: Where are flying L 410 from Kunovice nowadays?

SKLENÁŘ: At the beginning, exports went mainly to the Soviet Union, around 80 to 85 aircraft annually. On the present-day L 410 fly all over the world. The major advantage is that L 410 is able to land in the areas which are difficult to access or at the most complicated airports, for example, Lukla in Nepal. L 410 can be found in Asia, Latin America, Africa and Europe.

BUSHMAN: Do different markets require various demands on the adjustment of the aircraft?

SKLENÁŘ: Client comes up with an idea ahead what will be doing with the aircraft. The plane can be adapted for parachutists, medics, passengers or just for cargo, there are many possibilities how to modify the aircraft. There are also demands for landing on the airports which are no more than 550 metres long which is too little. However, we can take off and land at this kind of airport. Then there might be requirements concerning the altitude. As I noted, we have delivered the aircraft to Nepal.

BUSHMAN: What are the technical specifications for the aircraft in the category which you described „the best in the world “?

SKLENÁŘ: L 410 is able to take off and land on short unmade roads. What is more, this aircraft is able to withstand extreme climatic conditions which includes temperatures ranging between -50 and +50 degrees Celsius. That is why L 410 is called “off-road”.
BUSHMAN: Is there a place at which you wouldn’t like to land even piloting L 410 or does the aircraft handle anything?

SKLENÁŘ: Well, I’d rather have good memories about one island near Australia. Its average is around 650 metres, landing gravel runway is 600 metres long, one must be very precise here. It is an interesting airport at which not every aircraft is able to land. This island is a place for scientists, divers and many others. We are able to transport 19 passengers to and fro during one flight.
BUSHMAN: I have read that the very first L 410 was christened “Matylda”. Does L 410 NG have any nickname?

SKLENÁŘ: No, it doesn’t. The name Matylda was an idea of the mechanics because this aircraft was supposed to take off on the Matylda’s name day but it didn’t happen.
BUSHMAN: Do you call L 410 by name?

SKLENÁŘ: No, it’s „410“or just „Turbolet “. In Russia they call it Cheburashka which is a character from the cartoon. She is very pleasant as the aircraft.
BUSHMAN: You’ve worked in a company for 44 years, haven’t you felt like working at other places? Has anybody tried to persuade you?

SKLENÁŘ: I got used to this region, to Kunovice, so when there came a time while my friends were leaving for Czech Airlines or to other companies, I didn’t feel the need to leave this place or to go and work for higher salary. Pilots working for Czech Airlines might have salary twice higher to mine but I enjoy myself here while testing the aircraft, there is always a development of something new. I wouldn’t go away.
BUSHMAN: How do you feel when you still can work as the test pilot?

SKLENÁŘ: One must not be heavy-handed with food, drinking, sports. I might be lucky to be healthy which might not work out for everybody. But I don’t have any special recipe.
BUSHMAN: How long do you plan to pilot?

SKLENÁŘ: I have a check-up every half year. I believe that there comes a time when it’ll do me. I used to fly over 800 hours in a year, nowadays I have around 200 flying hours. I have flying qualifications for inspector, examiner of State Aviation Inspection, I test pilots on flight simulators and usually in the aircraft. Thanks to those activities I stick to the field.