PILOT PRESENTATION: GREGA TRČEK
The hot air balloon pilot Grega Trček flew across Slovenia almost a decade ago. The flight was one of the longest Slovenian balloon flights. Moreover, Grega was the first to fly over the northern Adriatic Sea. He has been piloting and maintaining balloons for over a decade. If you notice a balloon over Bled, Triglav or Ljubljana, it could be him. We asked him about the start of his career as well as flying over the Alps, which he enjoys immensely …
You have been a pilot for a number of years. Do you still remember your first flight?
Like many other pilots, I began my “ballooning career” as a member of another pilot’s ground team. Every once in a while, the pilot took us for a flight with him. The day when I was to board the basket came, and I experienced my first flight on the Ljubljansko barje. It was a short flight as there were many of us who couldn’t wait to jump in the basket. The pilot was Avi Šorn, who was later my instructor when I trained to become a balloon pilot. The feeling of taking off and floating in the air was incredible but unusual at first because the take off was sudden and you didn’t even feel the balloon lifting up from the ground. Suddenly, you were gliding above the land, not feeling the wind at all, which is normal because the balloon moves with the wind (laughs). In 1989 I began training to be a balloon pilot.
Flying over the Alps isn’t really an everyday event in the life of a pilot. What makes them special for you?
Flying over the Alps is a special challenge because of the specific weather conditions that come along with the flight. The difference between a “normal” flight and a flight over the alps is also in the altitude the balloon needs to fly at to safely fly over the Alps. The flight needs an altitude of 2500 and 3000 meters above sea level, sometimes even 3500 meters for a shorter period of time. The flight usually lasts between two and a half to three hours, whereas a normal flight lasts about an hour. The take off is usually at Rateče, Planica but the landing area depends on the wind, somewhere between Planinsko polje and Vipavska dolina. We cannot do these flights all year, because of their duration, so they mainly take place during winter, from November to March. What makes these flights so special? When you fly over the Slovenian Alps, you see almost half of Slovenia. Julijce, Jelovica, Ljubljanska kotlina, Trnovski gozd, Tržaški zaliv, Gradež, sometimes even Kvarnerski zaliv and the island Cres. The scenery and feelings when you’re flying over Julian Alps is truly something special.
The main condition for a safe flight are appropriate weather conditions. What sort of weather do we need for flights over the Alps?
For a safe and successful flight over the Slovenian Alps, we need very specific weather conditions, which include the appropriate wind speed and direction, the cloud base at a high enough altitude and of course no rain or snow. The appropriate wind direction is between 320 and 350 degrees, the speed shouldn’t be too low (at least 35-40 kph) and not too high because of potential turbulence over the Alps.
Does the altitude you fly at require any additional equipment?
Flying over the Alps generally doesn’t require any special equipment, because having oxygen for the crew is not required on these altitudes. We do have a PLB, transponder, radio station and other standard equipment. Using oxygen is required on altitudes higher than those we fly at, for example, flying over Austrian Alps, because the altitudes needed for that flight range from 4000 to 5500 meters.
How does flight control monitor your endeavours?
The communication with flight control is standard; filing a flight plan prior to take off, two-way communication at all times and mandatory use of a transponder, so flight control can always see us on a radar screen.
What would be your message to everyone looking at balloons in the sky?
Don’t just look at us in the sky – join us in these unforgettable experiences; flying, sailing in the air. There are three commercial flight operators in Slovenia, who have all the knowledge and permissions from the Civil Aviation Agency of the Republic of Slovenia. They can offer you a safe and unforgettable experience.
Grega, thank your for the talk and best wishes for the future!