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Omaha Magazine

He's So Ill: Blake Bochnicek Can't Be Killed

Apr 28, 2022 05:12PM ● By Greg Jerrett

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

When watching someone flying an ultralight at 6,600 feet on a partly cloudy day, held aloft by a parachute and a prayer, most people find certain words come to mind: foolhardy, insane, or totally cool. Opinions vary, but those who meet Blake Bochnicek of Papillion often find this 32-year-old Army veteran to be an eccentric-but-competent adventurer. 

Bochnicek gained notoriety on TikTok starting in January as @OliveIron23 (also on YouTube). His first video shows him over a cloud shelf with the ground far below calmly talking about idling and practicing an unpowered descent. Bochnicek has made social media success look effortless, with roughly 23 million TikTok views and more than 4 million likes since posting the first time on New Year’s Day. 

Bochnicek’s first high-flying video has been so popular that other TikTokkers have boosted their popularity by sharing reaction videos of appearing agog at his bravery, demonstrating that one way to become popular on TikTok is to be great at finding and watching other people’s popular videos. Bochnicek said he has seen TikTok accounts boost their own popularity by thousands of views. 

“I saw one woman had over 40,000 views just for reposting my first video with her own reaction. Wherever they’ve been posting it, it’s just generating a whole lot of attention,” Bochnicek said, laughingly noting even Flat-Earthers on Reddit have used it. “I suppose it depends on your perspective.”

The difference between 6,000 and 30,000 feet seems negligible whether one has a head for heights or not. The day Bochnicek flew, the sky was smokey from wildfires and a scattering of clouds partially obscuring terra firma. Either way, a free fall would’ve resulted in a beautiful swan dive ending with a wet thwack. But, much like his inspiration, James Bond, Bochnicek has no fear.

“I’ve been flying the ultralight for about eight years,” said Bochnicek, who bought the aircraft on Craigslist with insurance money from a car crash. “I’d see one flying around once in a while and it sparked this memory from The World is not Enough. And I thought, ‘man, I’d really like to do that.’”

Bochnicek went for a joy ride on a two-seater demonstration model with an instructor and loved it.

“I looked around and I was amazed, checking things out. I was kind of speechless,” Bochnicek said. A few grand later he was the proud owner of his own 007-inspired aircraft. With his mechanical experience from the Army, he’s been able to do all the work on the experimental plane himself.

Bochnicek’s mom, Patti Bochnicek, said she had issues with her high-flying son taking to the clouds, but with some trepidation, she had to give in to her inner daredevil as well.

“I had my concerns as any mother would, but I went up with his instructor to check it out,” Patti said. “I’m not that great with heights myself, but it wasn’t too bad.”

Hunter Willimon has been friends with Bochnicek since they were grade-schoolers at Rumsey Station Elementary in Papillion, pulling stunts for their own amusement. 

“When we were kids, Bochnicek had a four wheeler and we pushed a Volkswagen Rabbit with no engine or brakes downhill on his street,” Willimon said. “We ran into the stop sign, and had to tow it back up to the house. His mom was really not happy.”

In addition to being a new media sensation, Bochnicek is also a volunteer with Disabled American Veterans and a collector with a yard full of military and unique civilian vehicles of American, Russian, Ukrainian, and German manufacture. Among those in his collection: a Kaiser-Jeep M109A3 “Deuce and a Half” (a mobile repair shop now converted for camping), a 1981 Soviet VAZ 2101 Zhiguli civilian motor car, a Ukrainian military 1985 KMZ MB650 Dnepr sidecar motorcycle, a 1985 German military Mercedes Benz 1017A flatbed, and a 2010 U.S. Marine light-strike General Dynamics M1161 Growler—sans machine gun.

Bochnicek said his ultimate satisfaction will come from creating a lifestyle that gives other people as much pleasure from what he does as he takes from living it. Luckily for Bochnicek, whether intended or not, he’s becoming an internet influencer—a lucrative career in itself. 

“The end goal is to be able to travel around a little bit and just make videos, live life, and make people smile, honestly,” Bochnicek said. “That, to me, has been ever more fulfilling than anything I’ve done for work ever, just helping people and making people happy, giving them experiences riding around in any of these pieces of equipment they would be unlikely to ever get that experience with. There are people who come up to me in every parking lot I’m in and say something about how cool it is or how inspiring it is knowing there are just people out here who enjoy driving weird things.” 

Search for @OliveIron23 on TikTok for Bochnicek’s videos.

This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.