Category An Illustrated History of the World’s Largest Airline

The Big Baltic

The twin-engined aircraft made its first flight on 15 March 1913 (Julian) (see opposite page), and then, with two extra engines, mounted in tandem, and renamed the Bolshoi Baltiskiy (Big Baltic) it made an impressive demonstration on 13 May 1913 at the Korpusnoi military airfield. The flight lasted 20 minutes and Sikorsky was carried shoulder-high in triumph by the awaiting crowd that had assembled.

The next step was to rearrange the engines, in line abreast rather than in tandem; and this became the basic design for all subsequent versions of the big aircraft. Again renamed, this time as the Russkiy vityaz (Russian Knight) it first flew on 23 July 1913, and on 2 August set a world record by carrying seven passengers for lhr 54min.

The First Multi-engined Transport


Ploughshares into Swords

Just before the first Il’ya Muromets made its historic round-trip from St Petersburg to Kiev (page 8), on 28 June the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo and Austria declared war on Serbia a month later. On 1 August Germany declared war on Russia, which had decided, on 25 July, to support Serbia. Amid frantic mobilization for war, Sikorsky’s plans for his fine machine came to an end, at least for commercial purposes.

The E. V.K.

But the ability of the Il’ya Muromets to carry heavy loads over long distances was noted by many military minds. The Russo-Baltic Works chairman, Mikhail Shidlovsky, convinced the Russian High Command, the Stavka, that it had military applications, and in December 1914 he was instructed to create the Escadra vozduzhnykh karablei (E. V.K.), or the Squadron of Flying Ships, to perform flying duties on the Eastern Front, where Russia was engaged in a life – or-death struggle with the Central Powers, and had already suffered a massive defeat at the Battle of Tannenburg at the end of August 1914.

By 1915, the first units were deployed at Jablonna, near Warsaw, and in Galicia. Sikorsky then began to install different engines: French Renaults, British Sunbeams, the home-built R – BVZs, and other types. On 24 January 1915, he demonstrated Il’ya Muromets performance by climbing to 2,500m (8,000ft) in 49 minutes, and then climbing to 3,300m (11,000ft). The E. V.K. carried out bombing missions, with bomb loads of up to and even exceeding 680kg (1,5001b); yet the reception by the front-line commanders was lukewarm, at a time when the cry should have been "send us more Sikorskys."


The Big Baltic

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This picture of the Il’ya Muromets shows the engine mountings, gravity-feed fuel tanks, and the excel­lent visibility of the cabin, (photo: United Technologies)


The Big Baltic


Two Soviet Worlds

As Aeroflot settled down to its task of providing all Soviet citizens with an air service (see page 33), it concentrated on speeding up the journey times along the traditional main arteries that had been built by the Russian railroads to con­nect Moscow with all the main centers of population. Routes in European Russia extended to Leningrad, the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, to Central Asia, and — keeping strictly to the route of the Iron Road, the Trans-Siberian Railway, to the far eastern port of Vladivostok. Except for one branch line from Irkutsk to Yakutsk, along the Lena River, the Aeroflot network was an aerial reflection of the railroad map. By the mid-1930s, this had become the framework and foundation for an ever- expanding system of air routes.

In contrast, Glavsevmorput (Aviaarktika) fashioned its sorties into the far north of Russia by a different surface mode of travel. It had to; for in the 1930s, rail lines to the north ran only to Arkhangelsk and to Murmansk, the latter completed only during the Great War of 1914-1918. Instead, therefore, of following the railway lines like Aeroflot, Aviaarktika followed the rivers and waterways, the seas and the lakes; and in the summer used flying boats and floatplanes, while in the winter it exchanged the floats for skis. Only the largest aircraft, such as the ANT-6, were ever fitted with wheels.


It’s a Long Way to Krasnoyarsk

Vasily Molokov was one of many highly trained pilots who flew for Aviaarktika, gaining experience with every flight into the snows and the ice, the swamps and the marshlands of the northlands. He came into the public eye when, in the famous 1934 Chelyuskin rescue saga, he carried 34 people — a third of the total — to safety. The next year, on 11 February, he flew a Polikarpov R-5 from Moscow to Krasnoyarsk, on the Yenesei River, via Yanaul, near Izhevsk, and Tayga, near Tomsk. He then made a flight to the mouth of the Yenesei, at Dickson, on the Kara Sea coast, arriving on 19 March, to prove the feasibili­ty of an air route to link important locations of mineral wealth, such as Noril’sk, with the vital Trans-Siberian trunk rail line and the Aeroflot transcontinental airway.

Molokov then made two epic journeys that should rank with other great, and much better known, pioneer aerial explorations. In the first, flying a Dornier Wal, he left Krasnoyarsk on 13 July 1935, and followed various rivers to the northeast, picking up the Lena near Kirensk, thence via


Yakutsk to a point near Magaden, on the Sea of Okhotsk, then to the most easterly point of Russia, at Uelen (see map), and returning along most of the north Siberian coastline, to arrive at Dudinka on 12 September. He had covered a distance of 21,000km (13,000mi).

The following year, Molokov did even better. Leaving Krasnoyarsk on 22 July 1936, he followed the same route around Siberia, surveyed the Severna Zemlya islands to the far north, and flew westwards via Arkhangelsk to arrive in tri­umph in Moscow on 19 September. In both flights, he had followed as much as possible the courses of the great rivers and their tributaries, but east of Yakutsk, he had had to cross a formidable mountain range, between the Aldan tributary of the Lena, and the Sea of Okhotsk. From Moscow after the 1936 flight, he returned to base at Krasnoyarsk from 30 September to 5 October. The circumnavigation of Russia dur­ing the three-month odyssey covered a distance of 31,000km (16,400mi) in 200 flying hours. It was a pioneering perfor­mance of immense trailblazing significance.


Opening Up The North
Opening Up The North

ANT-6 SSSR-N170, the four-engined transport that led the squadron of aircraft to the North Pole in 1937. Mikhail Vodopyanov flew Ivan Pananin and his scientific team from Rudolf Island. This picture was taken in August, when it returned to Moscow.

(photo: Boris Vdovienko)




Opening Up The North

Opening Up The North

Sheer Versatility

The pictures and drawings on this page summarize the amazing diversity of the range of helicopters that have been put into use by Aeroflot, ranging from the diminutive 20- foot-long Kamov Ka-18 to the 108-foot-long Mil Mi-10, They can carry everything, from band-aids to buses, paramedics to pipelines. They have — unlike their opposite numbers in the West — taken their place alongside the fixed-wing aircraft, wherever they are needed, for carrying people from inaccessible villages, where even the Antonov An-2 dares not land (i. e. cliff faces or swamps), and for haul­ing large and ungainly cargoes like transmission towers for electric power lines. With these fine aircraft, the helicopter design bureaux of the Soviet Union have secured their place in aeronautical development history.

Sheer Versatility

(Top right) A Kamov Ka-25K (SSSSR-21110). (J. M.G. Gradidge via John Stroud) (Right) A Mil Mi-10 transports an electricity transmission tower.

A large percentage of the nationwide high-tension electricity powerline grid of the Soviet Union was constructed with the help of flying cranes.

Подпись:(V. Grebnev) (Top left) The Mil МІ-26Т, developed from the Mi-6, with more powerful engines to drive and eight-bladed rotor, is the champion heavy – lifter, able to lift vertically a load of twenty tons. (R. E.G. Davies) (Bottom left) A Kamov Ka-26 (SSSR-19S29) on ambulance duty. (V. Grebnev)

A Country In Chaos

  A Country In Chaos

Had civil war not intervened in Russia, Irgor Sikorsky’s Il’ya Murometsy might have put his country in the forefront of air transport in Europe. But as the map shows, the massive foreign invasion after the Bolshevik Revolution postponed any development in this direction.


A Country In ChaosA Country In ChaosA Country In Chaos

The North Pole

The Preparations

Aviaarktika had already reached ever northwards during the late 1920s and had spread its wings far and wide across the expanses of the Soviet Union, in those areas where Aeroflot had no reason to go, for lack of people to carry in a vast mainly frigid region that was almost completely unpopu­lated, except for isolated villages and outposts. Rather like expeditions on the ground, such as those to the South Pole, Otto Schmidt, assisted by his deputy, Mark Shevelev, pushed further beyond the limits, very methodically.

The northernmost landfall in the Soviet Union is the tiny Rudolf Island, an icy speck on the fringes of the island group known as Franz Josef Land (named after an Austrian explor­er). At a latitude of 82° North, Rudolf is only about 1,300km (800mi) from the Pole and a good location for a base camp and launching site. Access to Franz Josef Land, while haz­
ardous because of the severe climate and terrain, is feasible as the twin-island territory of Novaya Zemlya accounts for about 800km (500mi) of the distance from the Nenets region.

On 29 March 1936, Mikhail Vodopyanov set off with Akkuratov in a two-plane reconnaissance of the possible air route to Rudolf Island (see map). Flying blind for much of the time, and having to contend with inconveniences such as boiling six pails of water before starting the engines with compressed air, they reached their destination, and reported that the conditions, while not ideal, were not impossible. On his return to Moscow on 21 May, Schmidt was sufficiently satisfied to make plans. He arranged for the ice-breaking ship Rusanov to carry supplies to Rudolf, appointed Ivan Papanin to lead the assault on the Pole, and selected a com­bination of four ANT-6 (G-2) four-engined bomber trans­ports, and one ANT-7 (G-l) twin-engined aircraft for the task. Vodopyanov was to be the chief pilot.

The Assault

The working party sent to Rudolf did their work well. In addi­tion to setting up a base camp and a small airstrip on the
shoreline, they rolled out a longer runway, with a slight slope to assist take-off, on a dome-shaped plateau about 300m (1,000ft) above the base camp. The squadron of aircraft flew up from Moscow, leaving on 18 March 1937. Reaching Rudolf, they began final preparations. The ANT-6s were esti­mated to need 7,300 liters (l,600USg) of fuel for the 18-hour round-trip to the Pole, and 35 drums were needed for each aircraft. Ten tons of supplies of all kinds were to be taken, and elaborate steps were taken to design light-weight and multi­purpose equipment.

There were frustrating delays, as they waited anxiously for Boris Dzerzeyevsky, the resident weather-man, to report favor­able conditions, and for Pavel Golovin, pilot of the ANT-7 reconnaissance aircraft, to confirm Dzerzeyevsky’s forecasts, and to test the accuracy of the radio beacons. On one flight, Golovin was stranded for three days when he had to make a forced landing on the ice. But eventually, the expedition received the all-clear.

Flying an ANT-6 (registered SSSR-N170), Mikhail Vodopyanov, with co-pilot M. Babushkin, navigator I. Spirin and three mechanics landed at a point a few kilometers beyond the North Pole (just to make sure) on 21 May 1937, at 11.35 a. m. Moscow time. Ivan Papanin, with scientists Yvgeny Federov and Piotr Shirsov, together with radio opera­tor Ernst Krenkel, immediately established the first scientific Polar Station (PS-1) on the polar ice, on which they eventual­ly drifted on their private ice-floe in a southwesterly direction until they were picked up off the coast of Greenland by a res­cue ship on 19 February 1938.

The North Pole

Short-Haul Jet

Short-Haul Jet

Подпись: The Tupolev Tu-134 was the first Soviet jet airliner to find widespread approval in eastern Europe. The one (Tu-134A SSSR- 65892) was leased from Aeroflot by MALEV. (Bob Neumeier) Подпись:Short-Haul JetПодпись:

Workhorse for the Seventies

While the giant Tupolev Tu-114 was making headlines during the latter ‘Sixties with its trans-Atlantic and long-haul serv­ices to east Asia, another aircraft from the same Design Bureau entered the Aeroflot scene rather quietly. Produced at Kharkov, the Tupolev Tu-134 was a much-modified Tu-124, so modified, in fact, with engines moved to external nacelles at the rear and vertical stabilizer at the top of the fin, in the fashion of the ВАС One-Eleven and the DC-9, that the origi­nal designation Tu-124A, was soon dropped. Rather like the Antonov An-24, its wider deployment on Soviet domestic, rather than international routes, meant that its extensive use was not at first realized by western observers. But, after enter­ing service on 9 September 1967, the new short-haul jet quickly made its mark, as its export potential was greater than that of any previous Soviet airliner.

A Standard Airliner

Because of the sharp political barriers between east and west that prevailed during the Cold War, the Tupolev Tu-134 was not seen much in western Europe; but it quickly became a common sight at all the major airports in eastern Europe. The six countries of the ‘East Bloc’ as well as an airline in commu­nist Jugoslavia, all bought substantial numbers of the rear – engined short-haul jet. This success was aided by, if not inspired by, the Berlin Agreement of 27 October 1965, signed by Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and east Germany, known familiarly as the ‘Six-Pool’. Though outnumbered by the larger Tupolev Tu-154, the smaller twin – jet was still to be seen here and there throughout the former Soviet Union well into the 1990s, a quarter of a century after its introduction.

The World’s Largest Airline

The Tupolev Tu-134’s debut coincided with a notable mile­stone in Aeroflot’s history. For several years, annual announcements by the Soviet Ministers for Civil Aviation (for which Aeroflot was effectively its operating division) suggest­ed that its statistical stature was growing to the level of parity with the largest western airlines. By 1967, the Soviet airline was able to claim that it was the largest airline in the world, whether measured in passenger journeys made, or in passen­ger-miles flown. As Aeroflot’s presence in overseas markets was still modest, and often unobtrusive, most of this achieve­ment was drawn from the domestic network. Fares within the

U. S.S. R., measured in terms of percentage of discretionary income, were (and still are, even in the post-Soviet era) extremely low. With state – subsidized cheap housing, public utilities, and public transport, and with cheap food, the aver­age Soviet citizen could take an air trip to visit relatives or to take a vacation without diving too deeply into the family budget, meager though this may have appeared by a straight comparison with western income levels. The first Tu-134 ser­vice was from Moscow to Sochi, the Black Sea seaside resort, an event that was possibly symbolic of the momentum for growth that was sustained by Aeroflot during the 1970s.

An early production Tu-134 at Helsinki in 1972. (John Wegg)

Short-Haul Jet

Eugene Loginov was the U. S.S. R. Minister of Civil Aviation during the 1960s, and effectively the head of Aeroflot. He was in charge when the Soviet airline became the largest airline in the world, measured by passenger boardings. (Boris Vdovienko)

Heavy lifters

The Mil Mi-6

When, late in 1957, the Mil Mi-6 made its first flight, the reac­tion was justifiably one of awe. It was as long as an Ilyushin 11-18 and weighed almost as much. John Stroud, never inclined to use superlatives, described it as “truly enormous.” Each of the five rotor blades was 17m (55ft 9in) long, and, as with pre­vious Mils, they had electro-thermal leading edge de-icing. Small, removable wings were fitted to the middle section of the fuselage. Two Soloviev D-25V turbine engines, rated at 5,500shp take-off power, enabled the Mi-6 to carry a load of 12,000kg (26,5001b) — this alone is the all-up weight of a DC-3.

Its rugged floor could accommodate trucks, drilling rigs, tanks, any large or bulky object. Its electric winch could han­dle a slung load of 9,000kg (almost ten tons) and in a fire­fighting role, it could carry 14,000kg (15 tons) of water. It was used almost exclusively in specialized air-lifting roles, but could carry 75 passengers if necessary. Deliveries began to Aeroflot in 1961, and it was first used in Turkmenistan on 10 August of that year. The airline had about 100 of these impressive aircraft by the late 1960s, and about half of these were allocated to the oil and gas fields of West Siberia.

Heavy lifters

(Above) The two-ton capacity crane inside the Mil Mi-26, for heavy-duty in the oilfields of the Tyumen region.

(Below) A Mil Mi-10 (SSSR-04103), carrying a bus. (Vdovienko)

Heavy lifters

The Mil Mi-10

A direct development of the Mi-6, the Mil Mi-10 had the same enormous rotor and transmission, with a re-designed fuselage of about the same length, with long landing gear legs to make room for a platform underneath the fuselage and supported by hydraulic grips attached to the gear legs. If the Mi-6 could carry a small truck, the Mi-10 could carry a bus. To assist the crews in maneuvering at touch-down, the flight deck had closed circuit television monitors. The Mi-lOK (Korotkonogyi, or Short-Legged) version featured a special cabin under the nose, with rearward-facing controls for coor­dination with the winching crew. At Tyumen, base airfield for the region containing the world’s largest reserves of oil and gas, the demand is matched by the supply of helicopter strength (see page 77) of which the Mil Mi-lOs, fitted with both internal and external extra tankage, can carry out mis­sions of up to 5 V2 hours duration. In the desolate areas of

Heroic Mission

If ever a case was to be made for the advantages of heli­copter operations over those of fixed wing aircraft — and many were made in the U. S.S. R. in many diverse indus­trial activities, in the oilfields, the cotton fields, and the fishing grounds — it was made, under the most tragic circumstances, in 1986. On 26 April of that year, a nucle­ar reactor at Chernobyl, in the northern Ukraine, exploded with devastating effect, spreading a radioactive cloud over the area and for hundreds of miles around.

With a Hind military helicopter, with its gyro-stabilized gunsight, acting as a pathfinder for precise observation of the 1200°C ‘target’, the molten reactor, Mi-6s and Mi-26s plugged the lethal opening laid bare in the concrete struc­ture. After several unsuccessful attempts to solve a problem that had a hundred unknown factors, by dropping graphite, sand/boron, gravel, lead composite, and con­crete, the Mi-6s dropped a total of 250 tons of prefabricat­ed 14-ton cubes, containing special filtering/ventilation units to shut off the radiation emission.

Ground staff, clad in lead-lined suits, and teams of heli­copter pilots carried out this elaborate plan. The cost was high as everyone involved risked their lives by the delib­erate exposure to the dangers of radiation. Many were affected and one, Anatoly Grishchenko, died as a result. But the reactor was capped, and the world breathed a sigh of relief.

Most of this brave work was performed by the Soviet Army’s helicopters, flown by some of the top test pilots. But Aeroflot played its part, supplying some observation Mi-6 and Mi-8 helicopters, and Antonov An-24s for inspection of the radiation-affected area.

taiga and tundra, with little surface communication, and opportunities for airfield construction rare, such vertical lift performance is priceless.

The Mil Mi-26

This development of the Mil Mi-6 also calls for superlafives. The Lotarev D-136 turbine engines develop ll,240shp, so as to drive on eight-bladed rotor (the Mi-6 had five). This enables the Mil Mi-26 to lift 20,000kg (20 tons). Inside the roomy fuse­lage — the size of that of a Lockheed C-130 — is a gantry crane able to carry two tons along the available space.

The Kamov Ka-32

While not aspiring to the dimensions of the mighty Mils, Kamov did not allow the grass to grow under its rotor blades. It produced, in the early 1980s, the Ka-32, a larger version of the multi-purpose Ka-26, about the same size and of the same capability and performance than the Mil Mi-8, but of the Kamov traditional technology and design, and with the advantage of two decades of developmental experience.

(Top) The supplementary control cabin of the giant Mil Mi-10. Rearward facing, the pilot has direct control of the helicopter, work­ing in unison with the winch controller, (photos: R. E.G. Davies) (Bottom) This picture of the Kamov Ka-32 (with another hovering behind) illustrates the contrarotating rotorhead mechanism.

(V. Grebnev)

Heavy lifters

Heavy lifters

The dimensions and performance of these two large heli­copters, together with those of the Mil Mi-26, are tabulated on page 75. Their size is dramatically illustrated by comparison with two well-known western fixed-wing aircraft on page 79.

(Right) This picture of the huge rotorhead of the Mil Mi-6, indicates the extent of the engineering of this large helicopter.

Heavy liftersHeavy lifters

Heavy lifters

(Far right) The enormous Mil V-12 used two sets of Mi-6 engines, gearboxes and lifting rotors, mounted on stub wings. First flown in July 1968, it never entered seivice although it was extensively demonstrated in Aeroflot titles (photos: Boris Vdovienko)


The Great War did not go well for Russia. Although possessing far superior numbers, its armies lacked good logistics, and were generally badly led. By the time the infrastructure of armaments, food, and clothing supplies were showing signs of improvement, the administration of the Tsarist government had collapsed. Of several political parties, one, the Bolshevik, succeeded in mounting a coup in Petrograd (the new westernized name for St Petersburg) and the October Revolution of 24-26 October 1917 changed the course of history. The autocratic monarchy was replaced by an idealistic but ruthless ruling class.


One of the Bolshevik policies had been, effectively, ‘peace at any price’. When it signed the Treaty of Brest Litovsk on 3 March 1918, Russia lost all the western provinces as, one after another, independent republics were formed (see map). The Bolshevik leader Vladimir I. Lenin, was forced to surrender territory as the price of peace — territory that Josef Stalin was to regain (Finland and Poland excepted) after World War II.

Siege and Counter-Attack

The agony was not yet over. In April 1918, a contingent of British troops had landed at Murmansk, at first in support of its Russian ally, but quickly becoming part of an international alliance of intervention whose objective was to destroy the threat of a communist Russian state. As the map shows, the intervention was widespread, encircling the besieged Bolsheviks with a ring of opposing forces that became known as The Whites, to distinguish them from the Bolshevik Reds. The British in the North, at Murmansk and Archangelsk, were joined by the troops and naval forces of many nations, both on land and in the Black Sea. Many Russians themselves, with their Slavic cousins in the Ukraine, Byelo-Russia, and Poland, took up arms in a bloody civil war. In the east, a makeshift army including Czech prisoners-of-war, under the leadership of Admiral Kolchak, actually set up a Government of West Siberia at Omsk on 1 July 1918, and changed its name to the All-Russian Government on 18 November 1918. On 8 August of that year, British and French troops landed at Vladivostok, to be joined by the Japanese on 12 August and the Americans on 15 August. By 6 September, the British and Japanese had reached Chita, in a westward march to outflank the Russians.

But the tide turned. Just as the British troops in the north, reinforced by White Russians, reached the shores of Lake Onega, posing a threat to Petrograd, the Red Army, under the direc­tion of Leon Trotsky, counter-attacked in the east on 28 April 1919, repulsing the Czechs, who had reached the Volga at Samara. In October, the Red Army went on to the offensive against General Denikin in the Ukraine and against General Yudenich on the Baltic front. During the next year, the Bolshevik forces steadily re-occupied the lost territories, meeting, however, stiff resistance from the Poles, who won a great victory under General Pilsudski, with considerable losses on the Russian side. But by the end of 1920, it was all over. The White forces under General Wrangel evacuated southern Russia, and the Peace of Riga on 18 March 1921 ended the war with Poland.

Lost Opportunity

One of the casualties in the terrible conflict had been the dismemberment of the Escadra vozduzhnykh korablei E. V.K. (see page 10), and the destruction of many of the Il’ya Muromets aircraft. A few were assembled near Moscow and in spring 1920, were sent to the western and southern fronts. The Russo-Baltic Works ceased production. Igor Sikorsky him­self was on the wrong side, and, like thousands of other educated technicians and scholars, he fled to the West, arriving in New York on 30 March 1919.

The Arctic Experience

Подпись: The Papanin Expedition team (left to right) E.T. Krenkel, radio operator; I.D. Papanin (expedition leader); Y.K. Fedorov, navigator; and P.P. Shirshov. (all photos: Boris Vdovienko) The Arctic ExperienceThe Arctic ExperienceПодпись: Dr Otto Schmidt, Director of the Northern Sea Route Administration.The Arctic ExperienceПодпись: Mikhail Vodopyanov, Chief Pilot of the fleet Il'ya Mazuruk, one of the veteran Arctic pilots that carried Papanin to the Pole. who launched the attack on the North Pole.

Well-Earned Fame

After the various great flights made by Soviet aircraft, the pilots and crew were lavishly decorated, receiving many medals and testimonials in the Soviet tradition. Moscow wit­nessed receptions that were as impressive, if not quite so lav­ish, as those bestowed in New York on Lindbergh, Earhart, or Hughes. And they were well earned. Mikhail Vodopyanov, for example, had built up hundreds of hours of flying in remote parts of Russia, including the opening of the Dobrolet route to Sakhalin (page 24). He had pioneered the route to Rudolf Island, and had campaigned for aircraft landings on the North Polar ice, in opposition to other views that the Papanin party should be dropped by parachute. His crew members Mikhail Babushkin and Ivan Spirin had both flown big airplanes as early as 1921, in the Il’ya Murometsy, no less. Vasily Molokov had been one of the heroes of the Chelyuskin rescue, and his radio operator had been with him on the long Siberian circuit (page 27). Anatoly Alexeyev had flown on a relief party to the Severnaya Zemlya islands in 1934; while Ilya Mazuruk and Pavel Golovin already had outstanding records. When the Soviet Union decided to Go For The Pole, it had the best cadre of trained and experienced pilots in the world to face the daunting challenge.

_______ FLIGHT TO THE NORTH POLE, 1937_____

Director of Operations Dr Otto Shmidt

Deputy Director of Operations Mark Shevelev Meteorologist at Rudolf Island Boris Dzerdzeyevsky

ANT-6 N-170 Total on board

(inc. Papanin party, below), 11

Pilot, M. V. Vodopyanov • Co-pilot, M. S. Babushkin • Navigator, I. T.Spirin Radio Op., S. A. Ivanov • Air Mechanics, F. Bassein, Morozov, Petenin

ANT-6 N-171 Total on board, 11

Pilot, V. S. Molokov • Radio Operator, Stromilov • Navigator, Ritsland ANT-6 N-172 Total on board, 11

Pilot, A. D.Alexeyev • Navigator, Zhukov, Moshkovsky ANT-6 N-169 Total on board, 5

Pilot, i. p. Mazuruk • Rozlov, Akkuratov ANT-7 N-166 Crew only, scout aircraft)

Pilot, P. c. Golovin • Navigator, Volkov, Terentyev

• Mechanics, Shekurov, Timofeyev

Polar Party (with N-170) Remained at the North Pole

Leader, I. D. Papanin • Navigator, Y. K. Fedorov

• Radio Operator, E. T. Krenkel, P. P. Shirshov

Total weight of supplies carried to the North Pole 9 tons

The Arctic Experience
Подпись:Подпись:Подпись:Подпись:The Arctic ExperienceWeight Watchers

To equip the Papanin Expedition, every ingenious precau­tion was taken to avoid superfluous weight. Tents were of light-weight silk and aluminum. Utensils were of plastics or aluminum. The aircraft ladders were convertible into sleds. Special equipment such as the sounding line and the bathymeter were re-designed to save weight. Both the aircraft crews and the members of the expedition were eternally grate­ful for the innumerable contributions made by the ‘back­room boys’ in Leningrad, Moscow, and other sources of equipment supply.

Mow Much Extra

To carry even this finely tuned total weight of nine tons, divided between the four ANT-6 load-carrying aircraft, extra fuel also had to be taken, in addition to the provisions listed in the tables on this page. Almost two tons extra had to be car­ried by each aircraft. But the dome-shaped airfield on the plateau at Rudolf Island offered shallow slopes, down which the departing aircraft could gain speed and lift; and every item of nonessential equipment was stripped from the interior, and every non-essential item of personal effects was left behind.

lest Bombing

Landing a 24-ton aircraft on an ice-floe, no matter how big, was a speculative proposition. It was determined that the minimum ice thickness required was 70cm (2ft); engineers then devised a 9.5kg (211b) ‘bomb’. It was shaped like a pear and fastened at its rear or trailing end was a 6-8m (20ft) line with flags attached. If the ice was less than 70cm, the ‘bomb’ went straight through. If more, it stuck, and the flags, draped on the ice, indicated that landing was possible. This method was first utilized on the Papanin expedition.



Their Tiny Hands Were Frozen

During the final flight from Rudolf Island to the North Pole, Mikhail Vodopyanov realized that one of the ANT-6’s engines was leaking water from its radiator, with its precious anti-freeze liquid disappearing into thin air. Vodopyanov’s trusted chief air mechanic, Flegont Bassein, together with co-mechanics Morozov and Petenin, crawled along the tunnel in the wing (see oppo­site and diagram below) and tried to stop the flow. They came up with an ingenious solution, by placing cloths over the leak, soaking up the outflow, squeezing them out into a container, and pouring the liquid back into the radiator. The engine kept going.

The mechanics did too, but barely. To reach the leak, they had had to force an opening in the leading edge of the wing, radiators obviously being exposed to the airflow. It was an act of fortitude that nearly cost them their hands.



Two ANT-6s of Aviaarktlka (SSSR-N211 and N212), wanning up to go to search for Levanevsky in October 1937.

The Arctic Experience

An ANT-7 in a typical Arctic scene, (all photos: Boris Vdovienko)

The Arctic Experience

A special feature in the design was a tunnel that permitted air mechanics to crawl along the whole length of the wing, to inspect fuel tanks and cargo holds; and on one notable occasion (see opposite page) this was used to perform some unusual maintenance on one of the engines.


The Arctic Experience

AM-34RN (4 x 970hp) ■ MTOW 22,600kg (49,8201b) ■ Normal Range 1,350km (840mi)

Подпись: Comparison with 11-86 LENGTH 25m (82ft) SPAN 40m (13Ш) The Arctic ExperienceПодпись:Подпись: Item Kilograms Empty Weight on Skis 13,084 Radio and Navigation Equipment 297 Spare Parts and Special Expedition Equipment 262 Crew of 8 (120kg each) 960 Provisions for orew (20kg each) 160 Gasoline 7,200 Oil 640 Total 22,603 (excluding cargo carried for ice station)

A Great Airplane

Bill Gunston, renowned technical aviation authority and compiler of encyclopedic volumes about aircraft, including a masterpiece on Soviet types, says this about the Tupolev-designed ANT-6, also known as the TB-3 or the G-2: "This heavy bomber was the first Soviet aircraft to be ahead of the rest of the world, and one of the greatest achievements in aviation history" and that, "the design was sensibly planned to meet operational requirement and was highly com­petitive aerodynamically, structurally, and in detail engineering." This was in 1930.

A Big Airplane — and Plenty of Them

Give or take a ton or two, depending on the version, the ANT-6 weighed, fully equipped for take-off, about 22 tons. Most G-2s weighed 22,050kg (48,5001b). By comparison, the contempo­rary German Junkers-G 38 weighed 24 tons, but only two were built, compared with no less

A rear view of ANT-6 SSSR-N-170 in which Vodopyanov took Papanin to the North Pole. This picture well illustrates the excellent basic 1930 design of the world’s first heavy transport that went into series production, (photo: Boris Vdovienko)

The Arctic Experience

than 818 ANT-6s. Of these, the vast majority were for the Soviet Air Force, painted dark green, with sky blue undersides; about ten or twelve ANT-6s were allocated to Mark Shevelev’s Polar Aviation (Aviaarktika), and painted in the orange-red and blue colors. The four special versions prepared for the Papanin expedition, according to Tupolev historians, were in bare metal, prob­ably to save precious weight. The British and French industries had nothing in the same league, and the U. S.A. had not yet thought of the B-17.

A Versatile Airplane Too

Designed primarily as a bomber, the type was adapt­ed for other purposes. Design started way back in May 1926, wind tunnel testing was completed in March 1929, and Mikhail Gromov made the first test flight on 22 December 1930. Throughout its lifespan (production ceased early in 1937) it under­went many improvements, culminating in the ANT – 6A, specially modified for Dr Otto Schmidt’s Aviaarktika’s assault on the North Pole; and it was also used during the 1930s by Aeroflot, reportedly carrying as many as 20 passengers.

Подпись: The Grot Polar Fights

Подпись:Подпись:Подпись: Chkalov, 18-20 June 1937 (with Baidukov, Beliakov) Подпись:Подпись: Chkalov, 20-22 July 1936 (with Baidukov, * Beliakov) Подпись:The Arctic Experience

He Meeting

On 3 August 1935, the latest product of the TsAGI design organization, the ANT-25, designed by Andrei Tupolev, was on a proving flight over the Barents Sea, north of Murmansk. The crew consisted of Sigismund Levanevskiy, then considered to be the Soviet Union’s leading pilot, Georgy F. Baidukov, and Victor Levchenko. The aircraft had fuel system problems and, nearing the point of no return, Lavanevskiy turned back, landing near Novgorod, instead of the Moscow base.

In mid-September, a meeting was held in Josef Stalin’s office in the Kremlin. It was attended by the three crew members, faced across the table by Molotov, Voroshilov, and Andrei Tupolev. At the head of the table, Stalin con­ducted an enquiry, aided by his pipe, whose smoke drifted over the room. He asked Levanevskiy about his plans, whereupon the pilot said he did not trust the ANT-25, and Tupolev left the room in disgust. Stalin suggested that, for the next flight into the Arctic, American assistance should be sought; but Baidukov felt that the aircraft’s problem could be rectified. Answering Levanevskiy’s allegation that a single-engined aircraft (the ANT-25) had a 100 percent chance of disaster if an engine failed, Chkalov responded with the remark “With four engines, you have a 400 per­cent chance!" He won the day.

He Flight to Udd

Although Stalin had originally wished to make a prestige-seek­ing flight across the Pole to the U. S.A., he decided, early in 1936, that, for political reasons, a flight to the U. S.S. R.’s Far East would be preferable. Later, he was reported to have said that the successful flight had been “worth two armies." By this time, Baidukov had begun to work with Valery P. Chkalov, a pilot with a reputation for taking risks, but a master of his trade. The ANT-25’s fuel problems were corrected.

On 20 July 1936, Chkalov, Baidukov, and navigator Aleksander V. Belyakov flew the aircraft from Moscow, by a route that took them first due north from Moscow and then by a near-Great Circle course over eastern Siberia, aiming for Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, which, however, was blanketed by impenetrable weather. Turning west, they made landfall across the Sea of Okhotsk, on the tiny island of Udd, near the mouth of the Amur River. On this island, now renamed Chkalov (along with neighboring islands Baidukov and Belyakov), a dignified
monument commemorates this notable flight of 9,374km (5,825mi) in 56hr 20min. The ANT-25 had made its case.

The First Trans-Polar Flight

The following year, from 18 to 20 June 1937, they made the historic flight that ranks as one of the greatest trail-blazing conquests of the air, and one of the most dramatic. Flying at first due north to the Pole and then continuing due south, they made their way to Portland, Oregon, landing, however, at the military Pearson Field at Vancouver, Washington State. The ANT-25 had covered a distance of about 10,000km (6,200mi), officially recorded as a Great Circle distance of 8,504km (5,285mi) in 63hr 25min. The flight captured the imagination of the whole world and Chkalov was hailed as the Russian Lindbergh.

Tie Second Trans-Polar Flight

As if to trump Chkalov’s ace — and perhaps to remind every­one in the U. S.S. R. that he was once the premier Soviet pilot — Mikhail Gromov, with Andrei B. Yumashyev and Sergei A. Danilin, made a second trans-Polar flight only a month after Chkalov. On 12-14 July, also in an ANT-25, with its bright red wings making a dramatic impact, this crew flew from Moscow to a grass meadow near San Jacinto, in south­ern California. This time the Great Circle distance of 10,148km (6,306mi), flown in an even shorter time (62hr 17min) than Chkalov’s, because of more favorable winds and conditions, beat the world’s distance record held by the Frenchmen Codos and Rossi.

Tragic Postscript

One month later still, it was Levanevskiy’s turn. Convinced that a multi-engined aircraft was the best suited for long-dis­tance flying (and who could argue this point today?) he set off from Moscow on 12 August 1937, in a DB-A (URSS-N209). Designed by Viktor Bolkovitinov, this was a mid-winged and much-developed version of the veteran but well-trusted ANT – 6, the very same type that so successfully had made the flights to the North Pole earlier in the year (see page 30). Levanevskiy had a crew of five: Nikolai Kasteneyev (co-pilot), Viktor Levchenko (navigator), Grigory Pobezhimov (mechan­ic), Nikolai Godovikov (mechanic), and Nikolai Galkovsky (radio operator). After 17hr 35min, the radio station at Cape Schmidt, in the far northeast of Siberia, heard a brief message, reporting severe trouble. The DBA and its crew were never heard of again, although repeated searches have been made.

The Arctic ExperienceПодпись: This aerial view of ANT-25 URSS-N025 clearly emphasizes the large wing area and the high aspect ratio.The Arctic ExperienceThe Arctic ExperienceПодпись:Подпись:Подпись:The Arctic ExperienceThe Arctic ExperienceПодпись: