This Post Received a Comrade’s Corner Citation
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.