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Ivo Zdarsky – The Man Who Escaped The Iron Curtain

This is the remarkable story of Ivo Zdarsky, an aircraft designer who gained fame for escaping from Czechoslovakia on a homemade ultralight aircraft. This article sheds light on his courageous journey to freedom.

Ivo Zdarsky, born in communist Czechoslovakia in 1960, started building self-designed hang gliders in his teenage years. He studied at the aircraft engineering department, developed propellers, and sought to flee Czechoslovakia, where legal exit was prohibited by the communist regime. Educated and professionally trained as an aviation engineer in Prague, he made the decision to escape to one of the capitalist countries.


Zdarsky is taking a flight on a hang glider in Czechoslovakia. Photo credits: Ivo Zdarsky

To accomplish his escape, Zdarsky constructed a homemade trike, equipping it with an engine from a Trabant car and a propeller of his own design. On the night of August 4, 1984, he flew to Vienna-Schwechat airport in Austria.


During takeoff, a rock hit one of the blades, but the propeller held together, thanks to not being made of wood. Flying above the trees toward a border radar station, he pushed the engine to full power directly above the station, climbing into the radar’s cone-shaped blind spot and gliding swiftly across the Danube River to safety in Austrian airspace.


His only worry was that the Trabant engine might quit, as it was known for its unreliability. Fortunately, on that night, it worked like a charm.


“It was a nice, beautiful, warm night in August,” Zdarsky recalls. “There were stars everywhere. I remember I was using the Big Dipper so I could do celestial navigation if my compass would fail.”

Ivo Zdarsky in Austria, in front of his self made hang glider on which he escaped. Photo Credits: Ivo Zdarsky

Describing that historic moment of his life, Ivo says, “That night of August 4, 1984, I wanted to leave (Czechoslovakia) at 3 a.m. because that is when people were least active. So I ended up flying over Vienna for two hours like a tourist then went looking for the international airport. I circled the tower twice, but there was nobody in the tower! Ha ha! It was still dark then – this is the fun part – I saw a 747 being towed along a taxiway. There was a little bit of light there, so I landed beneath the wing of this Boeing. Enough room for two trikes! Besides, mine didn’t have a pole or wires on top but was strut-braced… something from having to keep a low profile when flying below electric lines. Anyway, a mechanic came running out, yelling. I raised my hands with an expired Czech passport and asked for political asylum. Then they were really nice to me…”


After only six weeks as a political refugee in Austria, he sold his trike to the museum at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin and moved to Long Beach, California, where he founded a propeller-manufacturing company in 1986.

Zdarsky and his trike after landing in Vienna. Photo Credts: Ivo Zdarsky


His company started to produce propellers called Ivopropruen, used on small aircraft, hang gliders, and new experimental models. Ivo also started to develop an ultra-light aircraft, which is a combination of an airplane and a helicopter.

Today, the entrepreneur’s home is located more than 320 kilometers from the nearest settlements, and the nearest store - the city of Ogden is a 45-minute flight. Ivo has two aircraft, one of which is an experimental hybrid - a helicopter and an airplane, combined in one version.


Ivo Zdarsky became the first person to successfully fly a homebuilt aircraft over the Iron Curtain to freedom!

Earlier, I wrote an article about Armenian daredevils whose escape attempt failed, as their self-made aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff.

Zdarsky is an inspiring example of someone who followed his dreams despite all the obstacles and challenges he faced. He is also a testament to human ingenuity and creativity. His story is one of courage, perseverance, and adventure.



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