Companies that are in the business of aviation – aircraft manufacturers, avionics manufacturers, engine builders, pilot emporiums, headset vendors, fuel companies – are often approached to sponsor a flight or a promotional event or a other. “It’s for the good of the industry,” the reasoning continues.
By necessity, they refuse many of them, sometimes for reasons related to security or simply to the total vagueness of certain proposals. Let it never be said that the plane and the dingbat do not occupy the same space from time to time. You never hear about denials, so it was unusual to hear that Slovakian aircraft manufacturer Shark Aero pointedly said it was not on board with another round-the-world flight by another younger pilot.
Other than a blog I wrote last August, we don’t cover these thefts, for reasons I’ll repeat a few lines below. Just to refresh, the latest – successful – attempt was a round-the-world flight by 19-year-old Zora Rutherford, who took the flight in a shark last fall and winter, completing the trip in five months in January. A European site breathlessly reported that she was “leading the way for girls in STEM by setting the record for the youngest woman to fly solo around the world”. Not to be outdone, his 16-year-old brother Mack is about to attempt his own Guinness World Record attempt in another Shark plane.
While Shark participated in Zara’s heist with support and advice, he put a prominent notice on his website explaining why he is not joining the younger brother’s efforts. “Shark Aero is not joining the MackSolo project,” the notice reads. He then notes that the war in Ukraine is a factor and “as a matter of principle, we refuse to be part of any project involving Russia or entry into Russian airspace.” Additionally, the notice states, “we do not feel comfortable pushing the age limit to the lowest possible point for rides where some level of risk cannot be avoided.”
“From the start, I didn’t like the idea of sending a 16-year-old boy on a trip like this,” Shark Aero CEO Vladimir Pekar told me in an email. “Anyway, we agreed to train Mack, to get to know him better. Mack today has better piloting skills and better maintenance training than Zara at the start. He knows Shark best. Either way, he’s a kid. I have just confirmed our concerns,” he added.
Furthermore, he stated that “Russia is absolutely not acceptable to us.” Pekar says the Shark that Mack Rutherford will use lacks the range to avoid Russian territory and may require long stages over water for which the aircraft is not suited or equipped. Pekar said Shark offered changes but didn’t hear anything, leading him to believe the family was simply pushing for the Guinness book.
“It’s not our game,” he said.
Surely you know this, but it should be mentioned that Eastern Europe is intensely suspicious of Russian intentions. Slovakia borders Ukraine and locals have fresh memories of the Prague Spring of 1968, when Russian tanks arrived to quell a liberalization movement. They see history repeating itself and don’t want to do anything about it. To us, these are just pictures on cable news; for them, it’s the visceral story. And as refugees stream from Ukraine to Slovakia, history is repeating itself.
I will reiterate my objection to these files of the youngest. They get nothing; they prove nothing while putting a young, inexperienced pilot at considerable risk just for the social media exposure and a mention in Guinness, a bar book that itself has had to fend off some of the galactically stupid stunts people do in search of a two-line record and a moment of glory. In short, these are more for adults than children and adults should know better.
The flippant, pro forma excuse to lend some loftiness to these records is that they “promote aviation” and “inspire young people” to become pilots. In the case of Zara Rutherford, the fig leaf promoted STEM. If there was a way to measure the results of this promotion, I suspect that, to recall Cactus Jack Garner’s description of VP, you’d find that it’s more than just a bucket of heat… well , you know the rest.
In favor of young Mack is that he supposedly flew Atlantic crossings with his father, Sam, a ferry pilot, who handles the planning. He is therefore clearly more experienced than the average 16-year-old solo pilot. Her sister Zara completed her flight largely without incident, at least to our knowledge. She was 19 at the time of the flight, but had no instrument rating and was flying an aircraft without an instrument. When he left, it was my expressed concern. This applies here too. I wish him the best, but I wish he didn’t do this for the reason he does it.
Three months ago I blogged about the four friends and acquaintances killed in aviation accidents last year – the worst in my long association with this industry. I will admit that it colored my enthusiasm for risky things done in order to tease people in aviation. Rather than pushing back when we should, we’re waving the promotional flag in the name of the greater good. Excuse me, but I’m not in the mood. I don’t think Vlado Pekar is either.