IN THE SKY
Wojciech Bógdał talks with Krzysztof Tadej, a journalist of the Polish TV
The Polish Aero-club has already been 100 years old! This is one of the most known Polish sports unions. Its members are wide-spreading Poland in various countries of the world. On pages of ‘Niedziela’ we present one of the best Polish pilots. He is Wojciech Bógdał – a contestant of the National Moto-paragliding Team. And although he is only 25 years old, he is the contestant with the most titles in the history of this sport in Poland. He has gained the title of the champion of the world three times, and the champion of Europe twice. He also gained a gold medal during the World Games 2017 and the championship of Poland three times.
KRZYSZTOF TADEJ: - What is the best in paragliding for you?
WOJCIECH BÓGDAŁ: - The moment when I am getting off the ground. This is like moving into a different world, a different land. A bit different rules of physics begin to work, and the whole everyday life and problems stay on the ground. And later, being so high, I feel great peace. I am looking down at the ground and I must admit that sometimes it is difficult to return as it is beautiful in the sky.
Till your mobile phone rings?
Oh, yes! (laughter). The altitudes up to which I fly, I still can find signal. Some pilots take headsets and talk on mobile phones. I used to fly and talk on the phone. I do not remember anything about that flight.
Could you explain what the moto-paragliding is?
It is often mistaken by hang-gliding and paragliding although they can be easily distinguished. When we are looking at hang-gliding, we can see a slight construction with a triangular wing. Whereas the main element of the paragliding is a wing similar to a parachute. Moto-paragliding is paragliding with a motor.
Is it a very risky sport?
I do not think it is dangerous. It is like in other areas of life where it is necessary to predict what may happen. If we evaluate atmospheric conditions well, we will check equipment and the risk of an accident drops to zero. When storms, strong wind, rain are forecast, we resign from flying. Recreation flights on moto-paragliding are, in my opinion, one of the most dangerous forms of active spending time. A risk appears during competitions. Pressure, stress and desire to achieve the best result play an important role, and decisions made under emotions sometimes move the borders of safety further. But these situations concern a relatively small group of pilots flying as professionals.
You are only 25 years old and you have gained the title of the champion of the world three times. What decided about you achieving the successes?
My childhood and hard work. When I was 3 years old, my dad began paragliding. A child’s awareness is formed in the youngest years so at once I was suitably directed in education. Later, when I was growing up, I used to go to various places with my dad where we observed flights. We met interesting people there. They often visited us to tell us about their air adventures. During those years I got emotionally related to this sport. My colleague from our team – Michał Radka defined me in his last interview as ‘born with wings on the back’ and I will say sincerely that there may be something in it…Another important element on the way to successes is hard work. It is impossible to reach the high level without it. Certainly, it is also necessary to have such predispositions as skills of quick making decisions and analysis of changing atmospheric conditions.
And surely talent. Did your parents agree at once to your moto-paragliding
They opposed to it. I still remember what my mum said when she found out that I had flown on my own for the first time. I was taught a big lesson!
You wanted to be a priest, didn’t you?
My parents mentioned that I had used to say about those plans. Since my childhood I had found my faith very important. Anyway my surname is obliging! (it means God’s gift) (laughter). In a parish church of Annunciation of Blessed Mary the Virgin in Tłuchów, I had used to be an altar boy and a lector. Whereas in Sikorz I graduated from a catholic junior-high school.
Now you have graduated from MA studies in the branch of the Warsaw Polytechnics in Płock.
I studied mechanics of machines construction. I only must write my MA thesis and take an exam in it.
And you cannot imagine your life without flying, can you?
Now I cannot. This is my hobby and desire to experience beautiful moments. I get to know a lot of interesting, fine people all the time and I travel around the world. Last year I was in Thailand, Egypt and Oman.
In Thailand you were experiencing difficult, stressing moments….
During the world championship organizers decided to carry out one of competitions despite a forthcoming storm. Everybody had to choose whether to fly towards the storm – risk or have a chance to gain a perfect result or to fly towards the other one and lose scores. A difficult choice. If one is flying into a storm cloud, it pulls the person in, and one is flying at the high speed and then is thrown out of it suddenly, at the altitude of a few kilometers where the concentration of oxygen is very low and temperatures are below zero. Such adventures usually end bad, although history knows one similar case with a good ending. In 2007 in Australia our compatriot – Ewa Wiśnierska was drawn into a stormy cloud and flew up ‘unconscious’ at the altitude of nearly 10 km. When she came round, she had already been at the altitude of about 6 km and it was safe for her to land far away from the storm.
Were you frightened?
One should always be a bit frightened, as without it one falls into routine and makes mistakes. Respect towards air is the first thing which pilots should learn I am trying to react to everything rationally and predict, and fear does not paralyze me.
What is the specifics of the world championship based on? What is the competition of contestants like?
About 80 – 100 people from various countries participate in championships. Competitions are divided into two categories. The first one – the slalom one. We fly above water among pylons, that is, 12-meter cones. Before our flight, we are shown a route and we must learn it by heart. If somebody makes a mistake, turns in the wrong direction, he is disqualified. A person who gains the shortest time of flight wins. The second category are classic navigation-skillful competitions. We have maps and recorders of flights. I will give you two examples. The first one – we receive a limited amount of fuel and we must fly as far as possible. The second one – we are given a map with a defined route of 50 m wide, which we must fly along in a defined time, and arbiters are checking whether we have been in this quite a narrow corridor all the time. Whereas in skillful competitions it is all about a skill of start and for example accuracy of landing at a particular point.
How high do you fly on the paragliding?
The record of Poland is 5 km. I have been at the altitude of 3 km above the ground. But flying so high is no longer so interesting.
Flying is very slow, and it is also by about 20 degrees colder there than on the ground. If there is wind one feels much lower temperature. Flying so high on such a small equipment allows us to feel the scale of the enormity of the world but if considering emotions, the nearer the ground, the more emotions there are.
In one of interviews you were asked the question: ‘How do you feel clouds?
When I am flying into a cloud, that is, liquefied vapor, I feel water drops on my face. After a while there appears a breeze of clean air. A wonderful feeling. In such moments I wonder what to do: fly out of the cloud or stay in it.
Do you feel lonely during your flights?
This is a kind of loneliness but flights do not last too long. They usually take about an hour. Now I am doing some flights commercially, that is, I take those who are interested in them and who want to see the world from the sky. I founded my own business. I also run business in selling and servicing motors for moto-paragliding.
What are reactions of people with whom you fly?
I have not met anyone yet who would not be glad after a flight. A lot of people hesitate whether to fly. I often begin a flight from flying round about the ground to make somebody adjusted to the altitude. A lot of people thank me that they broke the limit of their possibilities. One woman told me with tears in her eyes that she lives with her husband, has two children and thought that she would never achieve anything in her life. After her flight she said that she could still do a lot in her life.
What are your future plans, dreams?
I want to found a school of flying. I passed exams of instructing and I still must have apprenticeships. I will also begin flying training soon. For the time being, on Cessna planes, that is, training airplanes. Maybe one day I will want to become a pilot of passengers planes – who knows…
It means – you want to be in the sky?
Certainly, the world looks better from the sky than from the ground.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 14/2019 (7 IV 2019)