Miha is an inspiring, 22-year-old pilot from Maribor, who with his calm and respectful character, sparkles in his eyes, and playful nature radiates noticeable maturity.
We talked about his passion for flying, the challenges he experiences as an instructor, his current soaring adventure in New Zealand, why he took on the responsibility of the president of the glider section, and his desire to help create better conditions for soaring.
In the interview, you can find out why ego and flying don’t go together, how flying teaches you to take full responsibility, and why with the right attitude everything is possible.
Soaring over New Zealand
Why did you get inspired for flying? How old were you?
I was interested in flying and airplanes from a very young age. My family and I have been traveling a lot by plane since I was 11, and that was always interesting. Especially all those huge airports and the planes I saw there in a way started my interest, which has only deepened over the years. I vividly remember my first glider flight when at the age of 13 that entirely shifted my goals and focus from a powered flight to these attractive, sleek, non-powered planes. When I got the chance to try flying myself, I knew that was it. I filled in the application form the same day and a few days after my 14th birthday started the theoretical training at the flying club LCM-Maribor Aviation Centre.
You spent your early youth at the Maribor Airport.
I started flying in the 9th grade of primary school, practically still a child, which is only possible with gliders! I can probably unselfishly say, that I had by far the most attractive hobby of all the ninth-graders. I have always been interested in the technical and natural sciences, so the theory was not a problem, and I was also very lucky to end up with three peers in the generation of students (a very young generation of glider pilot candidates). We were eagerly awaiting the first flight at the beginning of the season 2015, followed shortly after by the first solo flight. At that point, my path was set, and flying became part of my life. During the week, I tried to get all my schoolwork done so that I could spend most of the weekend at the airport. I probably drove my parents crazy many times with my wishes, which often clashed with family birthdays and the like. And yet, they have always supported me and allowed me to stay involved with flying. For the first couple of years, they had to drive me to the airport because I was too young to drive a car.
That’s how I got my glider pilot’s license in about a year. In 2019 I took part in my first glider competition and every year since then I have tried to improve on the previous season’s result. So far I have been succeeding and I hope to continue in that direction. I have also obtained a motor pilot’s license and I love to fly as a tow pilot for gliders.
What does flying means to you? What does it give you?
It’s hard to describe what exactly it is that keeps pulling us pilots back into the air. Probably the best answer is that we are addicted to flying, at least in my case that is certainly so. If I had been asked this question when I started flying, my answer would probably have been adrenaline, freedom, and fun. Today, I would rather say that flying for me is about friends, responsibility, challenge, and, of course, a lot of fun, both in the air and on the ground. In fact, I really don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t gotten into soaring.
How do you experience the difference between gliders and powered airplane flying?
I am basically a glider pilot and I enjoy soaring the most. Commercial flying does not attract me enough to pursue it as a career and, as a result, I have no major challenges with engine airplanes. I don’t get the same satisfaction from flying a Cessna 172 from A to B as I do from longer flights in a glider. But I enjoy club operations, like towing gliders or throwing parachuters. Partly because it requires a certain skill in handling the aircraft and is a very interesting activity, despite its repetitive nature, and partly because I don’t have to pay out of my own pocket to fly it. Unfortunately, powered flight is quite expensive, which tends to prevent young people in particular from flying more often and more.
You also compete with gliders. Got an adventure you’ll never forget?
Fortunately, I have not yet been put in a particularly dangerous situation while flying in competitions. There is no shortage of other adventures. I will never forget my first competition in Murska Sobota, how nervous I was before my first start on a task, and what a pleasure it was to successfully fly around all the tasks in the competition. It was a really good experience and taught me more than a whole season of club flying. I got so attracted to the competitions that I now take part in them every year and I enjoy it very much.
How did you decide to become a glider flight instructor at a such young age (21)? You are not paid for your work.
Simple. I have always admired the instructors, and since I was training to be a glider pilot myself, I saw this as one of my goals. At the age of 21, I fulfilled the necessary requirements and started my education. It’s true that we are not paid as engine plane instructors are in commercial flight schools, but I really don’t mind. Soaring is a team sport and everyone in the club works to make collective flying as cheap as possible. A little sacrifice is always needed, hence the beauty of being part of a flying club!
From my own experience, you are an excellent flying instructor. What do you consider to be the essential qualities of a flight instructor?
Patience, good airplane handling skills, and, of course, a flair for teaching. The aim of flight instructors is to teach students all the necessary knowledge while inspiring, encouraging, educating, and not frightening them in an otherwise completely new environment. We need to be aware that we are no more than mere mortals, we are also capable of making mistakes and therefore we need to invest all the more energy in being well-prepared and be able to recognize dangerous situations. As a flight instructor, I really enjoy passing on knowledge and teaching budding pilots. But in reality, I almost learned more about myself in the process.
What is the most difficult thing for you as an instructor? As students, we observe with respect the dedication and the instructor’s resilience, sometimes even in very high temperatures.
Endurance in a plane comes with experience, but of course, we take a break when we need it. For me, the hardest part is when I see that a candidate is not making the desired progress. The challenge then is to find the right technique and approach to teaching. Each student is completely different and, although there are visible patterns of similar personality groups, it is still necessary to find the right approach for each individual. That’s what good flight instructors are all about. I would like to add that the first time I sent a student on a solo flight, it was a very uneasy feeling. Not because you don’t believe in their ability, but because you realize your responsibility towards the candidate you have been instructing and brought to this point. Of course, this also becomes easier with time and experience.
What is the one thing that surprises you again and again when it comes to flying?
A beauty from the cockpit that is sometimes hard to grasp. Some of the views, combined with the right light, are truly amazing. I wish more people had the chance to see and experience it. Slovenia is a beautiful country, especially from the air!
What has flying taught you?
Responsibility comes first to mind. Whether you want to or not, in aviation you have to take full responsibility for your actions. Sooner or later everyone makes a mistake, and I have made many since I started flying. It is important to accept them and learn from them. With that in mind, I would say that I have also learned humility, which is extremely important, especially in aviation – but I think we could do better here in general among the pilot community. Ego and flying don’t go together.
Do you ever get tired of flying? What do you do when you’re not at the airport?
After a period of intense flying, I like to take a break, but I wouldn’t say I ever get tired of it. Outside the airport, I am a student at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Ljubljana. I love cycling and hiking, and I like being outdoors in general, especially in the mountains.
How is it that you decided to take on such a big responsibility and at your age became the youngest president of a glider section (LCM Maribor) in Slovenia? How do you feel in this role?
I felt able to change the things that were bothering me about the organization of our gliding section in the club. If I really wanted to make these changes, I had to take over as president of the section. The first thing that positively surprised me was the overwhelming support of the members and the visible change in enthusiasm over the last season. I have often wondered if I made a mistake to put myself out there and take on this responsibility, but through good results and support I have seen that I must be doing something right and that makes me very happy.
As a member of the youngest generation of aviators, what would you like to see in the future? In the last year, you have made better contact with the aero club in Ptuj.
More young pilots and more networking between clubs. If we want to develop our sport, clubs need to work well together. I would like to see more joint interclub flying actions organized for young people. In the years to come, I would also really like to see more young people getting into competitive flying, which is something we are really lacking at the moment. In the spirit of networking, in the past year, we have established closer contacts with our neighboring Ptuj Aero Club, so that we could conduct training sessions on their winch. I think that we will only continue to cultivate these contacts and organize more and more meetings between the members of both clubs and perhaps gradually expand the meetings to other clubs around Slovenia!
It seems as if the country does not care much about Slovenian aviation, which is evident in many ways.
My opinion is that in Slovenia, at the level of general aviation or sport flying, there is a serious lack of funding to encourage young people to pursue this career. As an example, many European countries have a professional soaring competition team, largely funded by the state. Aviation is a very expensive hobby and an even more expensive route to a professional career, which many find difficult to complete without external help. However, I am optimistic about the future, if we manage to have good networking between the aeroclubs. We see the beginnings of this with the Ptuj Aero Club, but I am sure that there will be more and more of this.
You’ve been traveling the world since you were a little. At the moment you are in New Zealand for a few months where you are flying.
The idea of traveling to New Zealand and flying here was a dream for many years. By an interesting coincidence, an opportunity came up early last year that I couldn’t ignore. By sheer luck, I came across an advertisement for glider instructors at the Auckland Glider Club. One year later, I am writing the text you are reading in my room in Auckland! It’s really amazing how sometimes things just come together.
The experience is everything I wanted and a little more. I expected a lot of flying and I got it, but I never imagined how many new friendships I would make during this time. My journey is not over at this point, but I am already thinking about when I might do it again. People here are very relaxed and friendly, the pace of life is more relaxed, and there is a feeling that people are less stressed or less stressed in their daily lives.
I came to the Auckland Gliding Club as a glider instructor and I also fly their Pawnee tow plane, a very good combination.
Miha in the PA-25 Pawnee tow plane
How is soaring different in New Zealand?
Soaring here and the weather that makes it possible is considered by many renowned pilots to be one of the most unique and complex in the world. Soaring depends entirely on the weather, which I had to learn almost from scratch to fly here. The island is large, but the distances to the sea from the east and west are not, and that is the key. My home airport is in Drury (Auckland) on the North Island, which is a low-lying area with isolated volcanic peaks and quite low ridges.
The South Island is quite different and more similar to the high Alps in Europe, but it offers some of the best “wave flying” in the world. That is, it allows extreme heights and distances throughout the year. The only problem there is that in the case of an off-airport landing, there is not much suitable terrain for a safe landing. The stories from there are incredible, many times a helicopter had to come to pick up the glider because there was simply no other option.
The North Island is much more lenient in this respect, and the weather is no less interesting. Complex convergence lines are created that can be exploited for gliding. The biggest difference compared to the weather in Slovenia is that the situation can be turned completely upside down within five minutes. If you don’t know exactly what’s going on, landing in a field is inevitable.
What surprised you the most and made you think?
I find certain practices used for training glider pilots here really good. But the most surprising thing to me is the off-airport practice they do here. The terrain for such landings, which are a normal part of gliding, is much more challenging here than we are used to at home. Mostly meadows used for livestock farming, rarely longer than 300 m, and always without exception fenced with metal fences. Often there are almost invisible barriers in the middle of the terrain, which cause a lot of damage to aircraft, much more than you would expect in Slovenia. Young pilots are prepared for such landings by making their first off-airport landing under the supervision of an instructor, on purpose. We don’t do that in Europe, but I think it’s a great idea because it takes the pressure off the inexperienced pilots once it’s happening for real. On average, pilots here also have many more field landings than we are used to at home, precisely because of the unpredictable and challenging weather.
What inspires you most about your New Zealand experience?
New Zealand is a beautiful country, but very isolated from the rest of the world. The community of glider pilots here is relatively small and very close-knit. They are well aware of the importance of working together and keeping their activity alive. Every year, they organize many events and competitions to get together and socialize.
In less than three months of my journey here, I have participated in three one-week competitions. I really like the sense of belonging at these events, like one big family. Despite the fact that clubs usually don’t even own the airports, land, and hangars from which they operate, they work very hard to stay connected.
But the best practice they have is the one that brought me here in the first place. Bringing in the foreign flight instructors over the summer to help, share their experience, and keep the operation alive seven days a week really makes a big difference. I think we could consider something similar at home!
MIha in Auckland, New Zealand
Coming to New Zealand you had one special wish in your heart and it unexpectedly came true on the last day of your stay.
You have successfully completed your studies. What is your dream for your career?
I have successfully completed all my exams, I am currently taking a gap year or “a graduate” and writing my thesis. It’s hard to define exactly what I want to do, but I know it will be aviation-related and probably not as a professional pilot. I am very attracted to the technical side of flying, the design and construction of aircraft. I would very much like to start a business and make enough to support flying in my spare time.
Many of them want to fly, but only a handful get a license. Why do you think that is?
The process is long and demanding. It takes a lot of patience and dedication, but above all time, and unfortunately, money. The last two factors are decisive in my opinion. In a club environment, we strive to keep prices as low as possible so that we can teach as many people as possible to fly. The time flying takes is a big problem in today’s world for most people who would like to do it. The fact is that many of those who start training will not complete it for one reason or another, but I wish that, at least in the club environment, money would not play such a decisive role, at least for young people.
Your advice for someone who wants to become a pilot?
It’s hard for me to give advice to those who want to fly professionally because I don’t do it myself, but I think that a flying club is a right place to start. The experience, attitude, and knowledge that pilots learn in clubs are very important. However, I can say to all those who want to fly professionally that they should not lose their will and persevere until they reach their goal. With the right attitude, everything is possible!
ANNEX to the interview, added when Miha returned to Slovenia:
As life works in miraculous ways, you had one special wish in your heart that came true on the very last day in New Zealand.
Flying the west coast was on my bucket list even before I came to New Zealand. It was always on the back of our minds during my stay there, but the weather just didn’t cooperate – until the very end. I have to say a huge thank you to the guys in Auckland Gliding Club who made it all happen on literally the last day before I had to jump on the plane back to Slovenia. The flying experience was very different from anything I was used to back home. Constant low-altitude high-speed flying is something we tend to try and avoid in gliders under normal circumstances, but on the west coast beaches, it’s more or less the only way to make it work. Not to mention the very interesting winch launch at Douglas Road airstrip, straight off the back of the cliff. It was just awesome! And a brilliant way to end the already amazing trip. Auckland Gliding Club members, instructors, and everyone else I had the pleasure to meet, it was a great time flying with you and I do hope to see you all once again in the future!
Bucket list wish came true- Miha flying the west coast on the last day of his stay.
written by: Eva Kraš