2. July 2024

Change of plan and first few days in Latin America

Change of plan and first few days in Latin America
How did the whole journey begin? Everything started with an accepted invitation to an important air show in Buenos Aires, scheduled for the end of 1958. The fair was to become the gateway for the Czechoslovak aviation industry trying to expand into new, exotic markets, which South America undoubtedly was at that time. OMNIPOL was supposed to present L-40, L-60 and Z-226 aircraft. They were chosen because they had already proven their quality with both domestic and foreign customers, and it was expected that they would shine at the exhibition and attract more buyers.
But they canceled the event," says Luděk Skočdopole, a former employee of the OMNIPOL company, today. Even at the age of 94, he remembers every detail of the trip he took 65 years ago.
When the announcement of the show's cancellation "for internal reasons" came, all three aircraft were already in South America. "They had arrived there earlier by ship, across the Atlantic. And the mechanic, who was also there, had already assembled them," recalls Luděk Skočdopole. And he adds: "So we decided to do the promotion in South America on our own without the exhibition."
Therefore, a new plan was devised: the aircraft were to be demonstrated not only in Argentina, but also in Chile, Brazil and Uruguay. “However, the plan changed several times during the trip due to local conditions. We've experienced riots, demonstrations and floods," says Luděk Skočdopole, who adds that the journey, contrary to the original assumptions, took up to six months.
 Detailed planning included the study of flight routes, information on climate, airfields and security, all while being aware that the light aircraft were equipped with only the basic navigational equipment of the time. It was also necessary to ensure sufficient funds, fuel, vaccinations, visas and everything else needed for such an extensive journey.
"There were very skilled people in the OMNIPOL company team, which was in charge of the tour, so the preparations went quickly," recalls Luděk Skočdopole. OMNIPOL, as one of the most active trading companies in Czechoslovakia at that period, had its own team, which at the time ensured all travel activities at the time.
 When everything was done, there was nothing left but to go on a long journey. While today there are numerous direct air connections between Europe and South America, in the 1950s it was much more complicated. The planes had to land several times during the journey to refuel.
Prague – Geneva – Lisbon – Recife – Rio de Janeiro – Sao Paulo – Montevideo – Buenos Aires. After six stopovers, the group members finally arrived at the site. The only hiccup on an otherwise pleasant trip was taking off in a thunderstorm in São Paulo. The expedition later learned that a German Lufthansa plane had crashed shortly after its flight.
Warm weather in South America
After the first landing in Latin America (in the city of Recife), the crew was surprised by the weather, which was significantly different from the cold winter in Czechoslovakia. "I still remember this stopover to this day, because I perceived the first step from the door of the air-conditioned plane into the tropical environment as if it was accompanied by a sound effect - humming. In no time I was drenched in sweat and fully convinced of the inappropriateness of my woolen suit. But we were all the same. Formality went out the window. Ties and jackets off, sleeves rolled up, and thinking about which suitcase had my short-sleeved shirt," writes L-60 pilot Miroslav Křemen in his memoirs about the trip.
Another memory that stayed with him was the sound of millions of cicadas in Recife. "Recife welcomed us with a concert of perhaps millions of cicadas. I have never heard such a concert before. At least not in this intensity. Even after many years, it always reminded me of Recife, even though they were already cicadas of a completely different nationality," he writes in his book Cesty života leteckého.
After arriving in Buenos Aires, the team spent the first day entirely at the embassy, ​fascinated by the local culture. The next day, they visited the Don Torcuato airport, where the presentation of Czechoslovak aircraft was to take place in the next few days. After resolving most of the technical problems caused by climate difference, the show was ready to begin. It was January 17, 1959.
Excited Crowd Dispersed by Soldiers
The first days in Latin America were filled with aircraft demonstrations. In Buenos Aires they met the Minister of Aviation, thousands of fans and the Czech ambassador. Journalists tried to record every detail of their first show. Miroslav Křemen with the L-60 demonstrated sharp turns, minimum and maximum speed and other flight modes. Josef Krejza and the Trainer engaged in acrobatics, so there were no shortage of somersaults, twists and corkscrews. Miloš Kočíř with the L-40 joined them only on January 24, when the mechanics finally managed to get the striking engine to obey.
After a few days of presentations in Buenos Aires, articles began to appear in the local press with headlines such as "Good planes, good pilots." With these successes, the expedition said goodbye to the capital of Argentina and set off further south, to Córdoba and Mendoza, where other crowds of people looked on. In the meantime, positive responses quickly spread throughout the country. "We performed with a large audience, mostly experts, who did not hesitate to praise. It was all the more pleasant that it was from the people of Foch," recalls Miroslav Křemen of the presentation of the airplanes in Cordoba. In Mendoza, crowds of admirers even came right up to the planes and had to be dispersed by local soldiers.
The journey then continued to the mountainous conditions of the Uspallata airport, from where a challenging flight over the Cordillera awaited them. But that will be covered in the next part of our series.
Join us on a journey full of adventure, success and unexpected twists. Experience a story that left an indelible mark in the history of Czechoslovak aviation.

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