Born to fly

Updated: 2011-04-08 12:25

By Mike Peters (China Daily European Weekly)

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"Before we moved back to Hungary in 1995, I met the new military attach, who would replace my father in Beijing," he says. "He had flown gliders at a young age. He recommended that I take up gliding back home if I was really interested in aviation."

Born to fly

Oliver Racz grew up in China and uses his
Mandarin language skills to instruct
Chinese pilots.

Racz did, signing up for lessons at age 14 and making his first solo flight on his 15th birthday, "the first day I could legally do it!"

He joined a flying club as a teenager, but flew only gliders.

"I was worried about the stereotype - that you had to be some kind of superman to be a pilot," he remembers. "You had to be a genius at math and physics."

But in 2005, another cockpit visit during a flight back home from Beijing convinced him that flying would be his profession.

"I spent three hours of the 10-hour trip in the cockpit, chatting with the pilots, and they said, 'Don't listen to all that stuff'. They made me realize that I could probably become a pilot. I had to at least try."

A year later, Racz was off to flight training school in the United States, and from there, things just flew. Now armed with both commercial and flight-training licenses, Racz instructs would-be Chinese pilots.

"We are supposed to be teaching in English, since that is the international language of aviation and the students will have a hard time finding jobs if they can't speak English," Racz says.

But the demand for pilots is growing faster than it can be met, and Racz sometimes finds it's necessary to use the Chinese he has learned over the past two decades.

"It's hard to explain aerodynamics in a language somebody doesn't understand," he says. "And when you are in the air, there's not a lot of time to be constantly translating."

But the language barrier is a challenge the Civil Aviation Administration of China works hard to meet, he says, and learning English is central to planning for future pilots.

Now, Racz hopes to be hired as a first officer by a Chinese airline, the first step to a captain's seat.

And while he has "a bit of an obsession" with a bird's-eye view, he also enjoys photography and seeing China from a bicycle.

He's traveled to more than 20 of China's provinces and made time to cycle through many of them, including a 2004 journey from Deqin, near the Tibet autonomous region in northern Yunnan province south to Guizhou.

"I got stuck in Guizhou in heavy rain for four days when the road washed away," he says. "It was very rural, and I had a great time staying with villagers on the way. Foreigners were so unusual there that people were almost fighting to host me. The hospitality was wonderful.

"You can see much more of the world if you slow down and stop to chill at places where a bus would just pass by," Racz says.

Now he's planning a 10-day cycling trip next year from northern Sichuan through southern Gansu and then on to the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

Until now, he's only seen those western parts of China from 30,000 feet.

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