On May 13, 1911, Czech aviator Jan Kašpar successfully flew from Pardubice to Prague in what was, at the time, the longest flight in the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Born to a wealthy family in Pardubice in 1883, Jan Kašpar graduated from Prague’s Technical University. He pursued his training in Germany where he studied engine construction and worked at a factory producing parts for the Zeppelin airships.
An avid sportsman and race-car driver, he returned to his native Bohemia to start building his own simple monoplane, inspired by the exploits of some of the greatest aviators of the time, including Frenchman Louis Blériot. Several of his test flights nearly cost him his life.
But on April 16, 1910, he became the first Czech to take to the skies in an aircraft he built himself, successfully undertaking a two-kilometer flight near Pardubice.
Another milestone would be reached the following year. On May 13, 1911, 28-year-old Kašpar took off at dawn in the French-made Blériot XI monoplane from the Pardubice military training ground. In about 92 minutes, the young Czech aviation prodigy flew 121 kilometers from Pardubice to Prague at an average speed of 82 kilometers per hour.
He landed on the Chuchle racecourse, south of Prague, and greeted like a hero by a crowd of supporters. Kašpar’s May 13 long-distance flight was the longest ever undertaken in the Austro-Hungarian empire at the time.
The young Czech aviator would later donate the single-engine Blériot XI plane to the National Technical Museum in Prague, where it is still on display today after a full restoration in the 1960’s.
Suffering from mental illness and facing financial hardships in his later years, Kašpar committed suicide on March 2, 1927. He is still considered a major aviation pioneer in the Czech Republic, particularly in his native city of Pardubice.
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