To Infinity and Beyond

hammer-and-keyboard-in-star2-300px This Post Received a Comrade’s Corner Citation

Russian explorer post

Solomon Andree, Richard Byrd, Amundsen and Lincoln Ellsworth. All of these men have two things in common; they are all pioneers in arctic aviation and none of them are Russian. Enter Valerii Chkalov and his crew who, in 1937, pioneered a flight route from Europe to the United States, via the North Pole.

From the birth of aviation, explorers began to see and explore the potential use of aviation for arctic expeditions. Blimps and dirigibles were relied upon heavily for making it up to the arctic circle and the North Pole to study arctic life and map out the area. The combination of the storied exploits of pilots making long distance trips and the new innovations created for these long flights across continents led to viability of airplanes being used to cross and even explore the arctic region. Although several attempts by others had come close, in 1927 Americans Richard Byrd and Floyd Bennett became the first aviators to reach and circle the North Pole. By the late 1920s and early 1930s, Russian aviation began to flourish as Stalin began pushing resources towards developing Soviet aviation. What he needed now were heroic feats by Russian pilots for the media to exploit, as they did the great western pilots of the day. Enter Valerii Chkalov.

Valerii Chkalov, was an accomplished Soviet test pilot from very humble beginnings, a perfect hero for Stalin and a perfect distraction for the people. His mother had died when he was six and he started working under his father on river boats. He joined the Soviet Air Force and was trained as a pilot, quickly distinguishing himself as a test pilot. Soon he began to work with engineers to tinker Soviet designs and make small modifications here and there.

He and a small crew distinguished themselves by flying from Moscow to Udd Island, a distance of 9,374 kilometers. Eventually he devised a plan to fly from Moscow to Washington D.C. over the Arctic Circle, something that had not been done before and would become the route modern aircraft take for flights from North America to Europe and Asia. After meeting Stalin himself and receiving his approval, Chkalov and his crew completed their flight from Moscow to Vancouver to Washington D.C. in 62 hours and 30 minutes.

Within a month, another Russian flight crew, led by Mikhail Gromov flew non-stopped from Moscow over the North Pole to San Jactino, California in 62 hours and 20 minutes. The Russians were now a very active participant in arctic aviation as other crews distinguished themselves by making routine flights around the arctic circle in addition to other endurance feats like these. However, Valerii Chkalov was still Stalin’s favorite hero and helped to widely publicize Soviet aviation, while also giving Russians a national hero to follow and distract them from their daily lives with sensational stories about Chkalov’s travels.

Attached is a clip from “Valerii Chkalov” a movie that helped build a cult around Soviet aviation.


Valerii Chkalov

Pilots and Explorers



11 thoughts on “To Infinity and Beyond”

    1. Thanks, Alex! This glitch has fixed itself on most of the other blogs, so I’m not sure why we’re still having trouble here. Anyway — This is a great topic and I can tell that lots of people will be interested in it. We’ll definitely watch the film clip in class this week.

  1. I liked this story of a Soviet hero. It was a good find and it is no doubt that this pilot was an important pioneer. The thought of flying over the Arctic Circle is fascinating to me. I am glad I learned about this man. I wonder if he had any impact on World War II or if he somehow fell out of favor with Stalin?

  2. It’s interesting to here how much governments then and now tend to use propaganda and news to influence their peoples outlook on the well fare of their country. This story was very interesting, especially the part where the path taken by the pilots then are what our air travel paths are based on.

  3. It is amazing to consider all the different aspects of Russian life Stalin had a hand in creating. Without his push for Soviet aviation and a desire to advance before the West, this flight may have taken decades longer to actually happen. I found it especially interesting that the flight landed in Washington, D.C. because just a few years later WWII began and the U.S. would probably have banded this from happening.

  4. I love learning about aviation and how techniques and routes have been mastered to be successful in our century. I had never heard of Chkalov, but I found your post to be very informative and it makes me want to read further. I also LOVED the clip – the woman only wanted to become his wife after she was told she couldn’t. Very cool video and post!

  5. Very interesting post this week! You do a very good job of highlighting an interesting part of Soviet History and present it in a clear manner. The video clip was a nice touch.

  6. First off, great title! Also I loved the clip you added at the end. My dad is a pilot, so I’m always interested in aviation of all kinds, especially history like this that portrays the field in a different way than we are used to.

  7. I really like that you pick the topics that no one else would think about. I always learn something new and exciting from your posts. I had no idea that the route he took across the Arctic Circle is the route used by modern aircraft to travel from D.C. to Moscow! Very good post and, like everyone else, I liked the clip at the end (especially those special effects).

  8. I thought this post was excellent because the importance of aviation started to increase dramatically. Russia started to become a big tourist destination, especially modern day. Other than to help tourism, the use of aviation in wars increased dramatically and having the help of an experienced test pilot helps. The thought of using Valerii Chkalov as a hero by Stalin was also brilliant. Great post!

  9. I enjoyed the shift in gears and just reading about one person rather than an overall concept. I think the clip from the film really shows the heroism that you mention Chkalov having so I’m glad it was inserted here. I liked learning about someone new who has quite an impressive story.

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