First Reno Air Race Winner Mira Slovak Flies West

Mira Slovak, also known as “The Poor Refugee,” passed away this week at the age of 84. While not very well known to our generation, Slovak became a legend when he won the very first National Championship Air Races’ Unlimited Category, flying an F8F Bearcat, in 1964. Slovak didn’t cross the finish line first, but won on points – a system that was later abolished.

Slovak’s entry into the aviation world was nothing but conventional. In the attached video, Slovak talks about his time as a budding pilot in Czechoslovakia. He started flying gliders and, while he never saw combat, he went on to fly airplanes such as the Messerschmitt 109, Heinkel He-111, and Junkers 52 in the military.

After his military stint, Slovak flew the Douglas DC-3 for Czechoslovakian Airlines. He became captain after only two months of flying the DC-3 and worked at the airline for three years before defecting from the communist regime.

In the video below, Slovak gives a harrowing account of his escape from Czechoslovakia. He and a few crewmembers hijacked a DC-3 and flew it low along the ground in the moonlight. With perseverance and a bit of luck, Slovak and his crew landed safely in Frankfurt, Germany, where his life as an American refugee began.

The January 1965 issue of Flying includes a story written by Slovak where he talks about his life as a refugee. "I feel when I am racing I am kind of representing many thousands of good refugees who appreciate this country and what the Americans give us – a chance to live here," he said. "'The Poor Refugee" is written on the side of the Jungmann, but today I consider myself being a very rich man."

The Jungmann Slovak refers to is a Bückers Jungmann biplane, in which he flew aerobatic shows. Slovak he continued to fly the Jungmann until the end of his life. In addition to his air racing and aerobatics, Slovak was a legendary hydroplane racer. He also flew a Boeing 747 for Continental Airlines.

Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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