Category An Illustrated History of the World’s Largest Airline


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:

Upolev Tu-134


Soloviev D-30 (2 X 6,800kg st, 15,0001b st) ■ MTOW 44,000kg (97,0001b) ■ Normal Range 2,000km (l,250mi)

  Upolev Tu-134

Comparison with 11-86

LENGTH 34m (115ft) SPAN 29m (95ft)


Flexible Seating

The Tupolev Tu-134’s cabin was narrower than that of its comparable western types, with four-abreast, rather than five – abreast (and, in the case of the Boeing 737, six-abreast) seating. With this aircraft, the air traveling world in general became familiar with the standard Soviet airliner seat. Rather flimsy, and less luxurious than any western type, it was nevertheless effi­cient in many respects. The seat bottom could be folded upwards — a convenience for storing otherwise bulky baggage; and the seat backs could also be folded forward to a level position, a convenience which has been cheerfully put to good use by Soviet air travelers.

The Tupolev Tu-134 was designed to be able to use what are sometimes referred to as unprepared strips, with gravel or grass surfaces. Whether using these or asphalt or concrete runways, the aircraft’s take-off distance was long and its landing speed high, tending to draw the comment that this was more like the performance of a military airplane. Such commen­tary was also directed towards the ‘bomb-aimer’s window’ in the lower part of the fuselage nose, in which the navigator took his position during flight, with the two pilots separated by the ‘oven-door’ access. This position for the navigator is the best possible for a wide, almost 360° panoramic view; and in the Soviet Union during the 1970s, the navigator had a special responsibility for guiding his crew across the limitless and featureless taiga and tundra, with few navigational aids.





















Normal Range km (mi)







20 Aug

9 Apr



















25 Feb

8 Dec


















29 Jul

9 Sep


















9 Apr

10 Feb


















9 May

28 Mar

Fokker F.28
















Notes: 11ncludes subsequent developments (DC-9-80 series and MD-88); 2Includes subsequent developments (F.28-0100/Fokker WO): * production continues.


Upolev Tu-134Upolev Tu-134

Seventy Years of Aviation Aid to Agriculture

Подпись: GROWTH OF CROP-DUSTING/SPRAYING (MILLIONS OF HECTARES, 1940-1965) Type of Work 1940 1951 1955 1960 1965 1980 Insecticide Spraying for Agriculture and forest 0.90 3.00 6.29 13.70 26.84 54 Weed spraying 0.02 0.15 1.50 9.69 20 Fertilization 0.01 0.93 3.10 4.10 16.76 31 Defoliation and desiccation (forestry) 0.22 0.38 0.80 1.75 3 TOTAL 1.91 4.17 9.92 20.10 50.04 108
Seventy Years of Aviation Aid to Agriculture

Making the Case

Certain entomologists realized the possible applications of air­craft as aids to agriculture very early in the history of powered flight; B. Rosinski, as early as 1913; N. Yatsky, in 1919; and N. N. Bogdanov-Katkov, in 1921. Also, in 1921, N. D. Fedotov suggested the use of aircraft for crop-spraying with insecticide. In 1922, a group of pilots presented a paper to the National Colegium of Agriculture of the R. S.F. S.R., and with the help of Professor V. F. Boldyrev, a special commission was formed to study the subject and to carry out experiments. During the summer, 32 experimental flights were made, in which 4.5 hectares were treated per flying hour, and these experiments continued during the next two years.

The techniques were put to the test in 1925. Under P. A. Sviridyenko’s direction, aircraft were sent to combat a plague of locusts in the flood plains of the Kuma River, in the north­ern Caucasus region, and during the next four years, similar operations were carried out in Daghestan, Tadjikistan, Kazakhstan, the Ukraine, and other districts in European Russia; and even as far off as Lake Baikal. A total of 111,000 hectares was treated.

Getting Under Way

In 1930, the wholesale practical application of aviation to agriculture began. An all-Soviet joint-stock company was formed, with a fleet of eleven Polikarpov U-2 aircraft; and

60,0 hectares were worked during that year. In 1931, the fleet had increased to 65 and the work in corresponding mea­sure. Authority passed, in 1932, to Vsesoyuznyi Naychno – Issledovatyelskiy Institut Selskokhozyastvennoy I Lecnoy Aviatsiy (NIISKHA) (the All-Soviet Scientific Research Institute for Farming and Forestry Aviation,
which set up branches in Chimkent, Krasnodar, and Leningrad. Finally, in 1934, the responsibility for agriculture aviation passed to the Civil Aviation Fleet Aeroflot), and during the next few years activity grew until by 1940, almost a million hectares were covered by agricultural aircraft.

Post-War Expansion

As shown in the table on this page, aircraft were deployed widely after the end of the Second World War for agricultural work. The workload increased from 4 to 50 million hectares in the 15 years from 1951 to 1965. It doubled again during the next 15 years, reaching a peak of 108 million hectares in 1980. Nevertheless, during the next five-Year Plan, 463 mil­

lion hectares were covered, or 40 percent of the total agricul­tural work. Of this, about 40 percent was in Russia, 20 percent in Kazakhstan, 18 percent in the Ukraine, and 15 percent in North Caucasus.

Seventy Years of Aviation Aid to Agriculture

. Fokker F. lll




, In.



RR 1


RR 2



Rebuilt as Grulich V1, to D 902

RR 3


to D 1389

RR 4


to D 904

RR 5


Rebuilt as Grulich V1. Via

RR 6



to D 906

RR 7


RR 8



to D 200



RR 10



to D 910 Zugspitze




ex H-NABS, to D 180

Notes: Deruluft also operated Fokker F. VRR 13120501. ex H-NABW:

Fokker F. VIIRR21148451. to H-NACR: L VG С. VIRR11146443).

exD 123: Albatross L.76a D 1127 (10101): and at least one Polikarpov PM-1.

F.111s RR 3, RR 5, RR 6, &RR 10 to Ukrvozdukhput.


Going For the Distance

For propaganda and prestige reasons alone, the goal of beat­ing world records, especially in a technological field such as aviation, was attractive to the Soviet Union during the early 1930s. Andrei Tupolev realized that the existing long dis­tance record was within its grasp, and obtained authorization from the Revolutionary War Council on 7 December 1931 to proceed with a new design, the ANT-25 RD (Rekord Dal’nost, or record distance). It was a carefully-fashioned product. The corrugated wing had an aspect ration of no less than 13-0, with fuel tankage distributed along the whole length, to relieve bending stress (later the corrugations were smoothed over with fabric, and the drag coefficient was reduced by 36 percent.) The fuel load was eventually increased to 6.1 tons, more than half the total gross weight of the airplane. Instrumentation included the first Soviet gyro-compass, a 500 W, 12 V generator, MF and HF radios, and a sextant in a hinged room station.

Mikhail Gromov made the first flight on 22 June 1933. After the modifications, a series of closed circuit flights in 1934 culminated in Gromov, with A. I. Filin and I. T. Spirin, setting a new world’s record on 10 September, at 12,411km (7,713mi) in a multi-lap triangular flight lasting 75hr 2min. Then, as preparations were made for a spectacu­lar demonstration — trans-Polar flight — Gromov fell ill. In August 1935, the reputable Sigismund Levanevskiy flew towards the North Pole, but had to turn back (see opposite page); and that led to the critical meeting with Stalin. As the table below shows, the ANT-25 was in a great tradi­tion of long-range specialist aircraft. And the honor of matching words with deeds fell to Valery Chkalov.

About 16 ANT-25s were built. No more record­breaking flights were attempted, but the aircraft were used for experimental test flying.

Valery Chkalov, pilot of the fust trans-Polar flight of 1937.

Sigismund Levanevskiy, pilot of the third, and tragic attempt to fly across the North Pole in 1937.

In an amiable mood, the designer of the ANT-25, Andrei Tupolev, and Chkalov’s co-pilot, Georgy Baidukov, meet at Moscow airport in 1975. With them is General Bykov, Deputy Minister of Aviation, (photos: Boris Vdovienko)


The ANT-25 crew that flew from Moscow to California in 1937 (left to right) Danilin, Gromov, and Yumarshov.

Подпись: A Nationwide Airline

Aeroflot Consolidates

While all the headlines were being captured by Aviaarktika, with its brilliant support of the Papanin Expedition; by Chkalov’s and Gromov’s trans-Polar flights, and by Levanevskiy’s tragic disappearance; Aeroflot was building an air network, not so much by adding more routes (to those shown on the map on page 27) but by introducing better aircraft and more frequencies on the trunk lines and by adding small feeder services and bush routes to connect with the main arteries.

On 15 May 1937, for example, improved service from Moscow to Tashkent was announced, to augment the flights first started by Dobrolet in 1929, but which carried mainly mail and Pravda matrices. Rather as in the formative years of air transport in the United States in the 1920s, the passengers, mainly government officials, had lower priority. But from 1937 onwards, there was a distinct upgrading of service standards.

International Probing

The Prague route had opened, with PS-9 (modified ANT-9) ser­vice, on 31 August 1936, and following the demise of Deruluft on 31 March 1937, Berlin was added to the Aeroflot map. Service also started from Leningrad to Stockholm in 1937, but this was superseded — handsomely — on 11 November 1940, by a direct service from Stockholm to Moscow, via Riga and Velikie Luki. Operated jointly with the Swedish Airline A. B.A., both airlines used the Douglas DC-3; the Soviets, however, also flying the license-built Lisunov Li-2 version, production of which had begun in 1938, a contract having been made between Douglas and AMTORG (American Trading Organization) in August 1935 (see page 37). In an interesting preview of future events, the two airlines offered service from Stockholm (neutral during World War II) and Tokyo, via the Trans-Siberian Railway (interestingly, not by Aeroflot); while an even more ambitious connection was offered, from Scandinavia to San Francisco in 30 days, by Japanese ship from Kobe. This, of course, did not last very long.

Other indications of Aeroflot’s following the flag during this confused period of uncertain world politics were the opening of lines to Bucharest and Cluj, Romania, in 1938, and to Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1939. In that year also, a joint Soviet-Chinese air link was forged, from Alma Ata to Hami, in northwest China, the two points giving a name to the airline: Hamiata. But all hopes of further international expansion were dashed when Hitler’s Germany invaded the Soviet Union with Operation Barbarossa on 22 June 1941.

Gaining Stature

ANT-25Подпись: The Lisunov Li-2, license-built version of the Douglas DC-3, superseded the old generation, at Moscow-Khodinka. (Boris Vdovienko)Подпись:ANT-25By 1940, the unduplicated mileage of Aeroflot’s route system was close to 100,000, and in that year it carried 350,000 pas­sengers. The productivity, measured in passenger-miles flown, was 160 million. Aeroflot was now bigger than Deutsche Lufthansa, Europe’s biggest, and it was now the third biggest airline in the world.

Подпись: Flights Long and Short

The Lights Co Out Again

Europe was an unsettled part of the world in 1938 and 1939. The seizure of Austria and the Sudentenland by Nazi troops had put every country on a war-alert footing. Old-style diplo­macy had been replaced by a policy of might-is-right, and war seemed inevitable as Adolf Hitler pursued his insatiable desire for power. While some countries took defensive measures — France built its Maginot Line and Britain belatedly modern­ized its Royal Air Force — the U. S.S. R, disenchanted with try­ing to come to terms with the western democracies, signed a non-aggression pact with Germany — the infamous Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact — in August 1939. On 3 September, Germany invaded Poland, and the Second World War began. Echoing a famous phrase by British statesman Edward Grey in 1914, the lights went out in Europe once again.

Flight of the Moscow

Against the far-reaching political events, the world of com­merce and culture, as always, carried on until the guns and torpedoes were actually fired. In the United States, New York was planning a spectacular World’s Fair, and rather surprising­ly, the Soviet Union decided to mark the occasion by what was intended to be a spectacular airplane flight. Although the Chkalov and Gromov trans-Polar flights had been impressive, the disappearance of Levanevskiy had tarnished the image; and his death had further emphasized the severe dangers of




(photos: Boris Vdovienko)

challenging the Arctic wastes.

Accordingly, a shorter route was chosen, the Great Circle route westward from Moscow via Iceland and Greenland. The pilot was Brig Gen Vladimir Kokkinaki, flying an Ilyushin TsKB-30 (DB-3B) twin-engined bomber aircraft, the Moskva (Moscow), the same one in which he had made a non­stop flight to the Far East in June 1938. Accompanied by Major Mikhail Kh. Gordiyenko, he took off from Moscow on 28 April 1939, and then proceeded to face filthy weather, tem­peratures down to 54°C below zero, and, approaching the North American continent, dense fog. They lost their way and, with a certain amount of luck, managed to make a wheels-up forced landing in an ice-covered marsh on the little island of Miscou, New Brunswick, 6,250km (3,900mi) and 22hr 56min after leaving Moscow. They had actually flown farther, while they were lost, and made their landing with empty tanks.


Departure of the flight to Novaya Zemlya on 29 March 1936. Vodopyanov’s first segment, however, was only a few kilometers.

Polikarpov R-5 (SSSR-N127), one of only two built, and in which Mikhail Vodopyanov made a flight to Novaya Zemlya in 1936.

Vodopyanov’s Shortest Hop

When the famous pilot Mikhail Vodopyanov set off on his epic survey flight of 29 March 1936, to determine if a route to the North Pole was feasible via selected loca­tions in Novaya Zemlya and Franz Jozef Land (see page 28), he was given an enthusiastic send-off by a crowd of well-wishers at Moscow. He took off in a Polikarpov R – 5 (SSSR-N128), ostensibly en route to the Frozen North.



Подпись: REGD

Little did the crowd know of a certain hesitancy in the hero Mikhail’s demeanour. For the day was a Sunday, and he was superstitious about flying on a Sunday. The first leg of his arduous route to the dreaded Franz Jozef Land was as short as he could make it — just over the rooftops and hedges to the nearest landing strip;, and out of sight of the adoring fans.

The Mini-Liners

The Mini-Liners

The Smallest Jetliner

The Soviet industry had, by the late 1960s, acquired a reputa­tion — deserved, no doubt, in some cases — of copying western aircraft designs. But one aircraft owed nothing to western influ­ence. The Yakovlev Yak-40 was a small jet, seating up to 32 passengers, for use on feeder routes which did not generate enough traffic to justify even the 40-48-seat Antonov An-24.

The distinguishing feature of the Yak-40 was its tri-jet engine configuration, with two in fuselage-mounted pods, and one fared into the vertical stabilizer, all at the rear, like the engines in the Trident, the Boeing 727, or the Tupolev Tu – 154, but on a much smaller scale. The normal entrance was by a ventral stair. A. S. Yakovlev, who had produced the Yak-9 and Yak-3 fighter aircraft that did such an outstanding job in the Great Patriotic War, thus made his debut in the commercial arena with a unique formula. Not only that, but in so doing, and allowing for certain shortcomings such as a shortage of baggage space (only one overhead rack, as a rule, on the right side; and no under-floor hold), Yakovlev pro­duced a small jet airliner for successful inter-city use; and this accomplishment has not been matched in the West.

The Yak-40 made its first flight on 21 October 1966 and entered service with Aeroflot on 30 September 1968. More than 1,010 were built at the Saratov production line and 130 were exported to 17 countries.

A. S. Yakovlev

Yakovlev pro­duced a mini-air­liner that has no equivalent in the west, (courtesy: Von Hardesty)

The Smallest Turboprop

Not long after the introduction of what may be described as the world’s first mini-airliner, another small aircraft, designed for a similar air transport role, appeared on the scene. This was the 15-seat Let L410 (later produced as a 19-seater), sometimes known as the Turbolet, and was produced by the Let Narodni Podnik (Let National Corporation) in Czechoslovakia. The pre-war Czech aircraft industry had been obliterated by the Nazi occupation, but it pulled itself togeth­er again after the War, and by the late 1960s, was ready with innovative designs. The small turboprop seemed to be just

The Mini-Liners

Line-up of more than 20 Yak-40s at Krasnoyarsk in 1992.

right for Aeroflot as a replacement for the aging Antonov An-2.In the event, it did not completely replace, but was a worthy complement to the ‘Annuchik’ in its versatility in using grass or gravel strips.

Like the Yak-40, the L410’s baggage hold is at the back, but access is through a hydraulically actuated door in the left rear fuselage. Unlike the small tri-jet, however, there are no overhead baggage racks in the three-abreast configuration. A total of 902 of the Czech mini-airliners were exported to the Soviet Union.

The Mini-Liners

LetL410 SSSR-67544 at Khabarovsk.

The Mini-Liners

Cabin of a Yak-40 in 24-seat layout. In this version, baggage racks are open and on one side only. (Photos: R. E.G. Davies)

King of the Crop Sprayers

Подпись: View of a typical landing strip, about 300 meters (1,000 feet) long, Antonov An-2, preparing for a day's crop-spraying. (V. Grebnev) in a collective farm district near Novgorod. (R.E.G. Davies)King of the Crop SprayersПодпись:

King of the Crop SprayersProductivity

During the peak period of chemical spraying, more than

3,0 aircraft are put to use, although the number is declining as ecological concerns have reduced the activity in some areas. Ninety-five percent of the work is performed by the Antonov An-2, for which, in this application, the much – used word ‘workhorse’ is perfectly apt. The remainder, special­ized work in small gardens, vineyards, and small fields, is done by helicopters.

The productivity is impressive. In pollination work, for example, the An-2s can cover 400 times as much area as by manual applications; and for crop-spraying, the factors in at least 600- fold.

Doubie Duty

To fly the crop-sprayers, hour after hour, day after day, is demanding on the pilots, who must exercise strict control and discipline, with no margin for error. The An-2s fly at an altitude of three meters (10ft), and each crew makes between 30 and 50 flights per day, each flight lasting between four and 15 minutes.

Seventy percent of Aeroflot captains start flying in agricul­tural aviation, working their way up from the grass roots — almost literally. Many an Ilyushin 11-86 or 11-62 captain will look back on his agricultural apprenticeship with a certain affection, which is also directed at the veteran biplane, the Annachik, or, as it is sometimes called, by the name that it inherited from the Polikarpov U-2, the Kukuruzhnik.

King of the Crop Sprayers

Pilot’s-eye view of a field being dusted with fertilizer, from the cockpit of an Antonov An-2. (R. E.G. Davies)

Formation of Dobrolet

Formation of Dobrolet

Russian Aviation Recovery

By 1922, aviation in Russia was slowly recovering. The service to Berlin (pages 12-13) carried 400 passengers and 18 tons of mail. And some progress was being made elsewhere. On 8 July 1922 in Moscow, for example, the first experimental flight was made spraying insecticide from the air, as a prelude to developing aviation for agricultural use (page 82). Aerial pho­tography was quickly recognized to be ideal for mapping

Russia’s vast eastern expanses, almost totally devoid of surface transport north of the trans-Siberian Railway.

Other than Deruluft, another small air transport service, the All-Russian, was offered in 1922. On 1 August, flights began between Moscow and Nizhne Novgorod, in conjunc­tion with the annual fair. The aircraft used were Junkers-F 13s, lent by the German Junkers firm, which was planning to establish an assembly plant in Moscow (see opposite). The service operated until 25 September, and 57 flights were made, carrying 209 passengers and 2,600kg (5,8001b) of freight over the 420km (260mi) distance.

As a result, the Russian authorities ordered 20 Junkers-F 13s for future use, and the national budget for aviation pur­poses was raised to 35 million rubles. During 1922 also, the first Soviet-built aircraft made its debut in Leningrad. It was a small training model, designated the U-l, and named Red Pilot. Some 700 are reported to have been built, as well as 120 of the Mu-1 floatplane version. The U-2 was built in 1928.

Formation of the U. S.S. R.

Political consolidation was delayed until the end of 1922, when the Far Eastern Republic, which had declared independence during the turmoil of the Revolution, finally agreed to merge with the Russian S. F.S. R. On 30 December 1922, the 10th All­Russian Congress of the Soviets (and the First All-Union Congress) officially declared the formation of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (U. S.S. R.), consisting of Russia, the Ukraine, Byelorussia (White Russia), and Transcaucasia. Russia effectively controlled central Asia, but the republics in that region did not become part of the Soviet Union until 1924.

A Civil Aviation Administration

On 23 November 1922, the Institute of Engineers of the Red Air Force (page 12) in Moscow became the Academy of the Air Force, which was also named after its driving personali­ty, Nikolai Zhukovskiy. On 1 December, as the threat of war receded, the Revolutionary War Soviet of the Republic, under the Chief Directorate of the Workers and Peasants of the Red Army Air Force (Glavvozdykhoflot) was charged with the responsibility of inspecting all civil aviation and overseeing its technical activities. Simply put, this Inspectorate of the Civil Air Fleet was akin to the U. S. Civil Aeronautics Authority, and it paved the way for the establish-

Poster advertising the Junkers ‘Aviakultura’ flights between Moscow and Nizhne Novogorod in 1922.

ment of civil air transport. On 9 February 1923, the Soviet Council of Labour and Defence issued a decree whereby the establishment of airlines was entrusted to Glavvozdykhoflot, through the Inspectorate of the Air Fleet. With the support of the post office and other government agencies, the operation was, in turn, placed under a full-time Civil Aviation Board (or Council) and this event is recognized as the official birth date of Aeroflot.

The Great Patriotic War


With shattering force, and with the element of surprise, Hitler’s Germany launched Operation Barbarossa and invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. Within two or three days, at least half of the Soviet Air Force had been destroyed before the aircraft could take to the air. All Aeroflot services to the west were immediately suspended — including the one to Berlin! — but those to the east continued for a while, as did some of the routes of Aviaarktika. On 25 June, Grazdansij Vozduzhnij Plot (Aeroflot) effectively became a unit of the Soviet Air Force. Vasily S. Molokov, hero of the Chelyuskin rescue, and veteran of Polar aviation, was appointed head of the military transport organization, with the rank of Major-General.

The Battle of Moscow

In October 1941, the Germans made a concentrated effort to capture Moscow. The Soviet forces desperately defended their capital. On 16 October, the Government transferred to Kuibyshev (Samara), although Stalin himself (in an uncharac­teristic reflection of a similar decision by King George VI) stayed in Moscow. Aeroflot was directly involved in the defense of Moscow. The published statistics were impressive: 32,730 flights (845 behind enemy lines); 49,822 troops car­ried; and 1,365 tons of supplies, arms, and medicines carried.


Late in 1942, two special groups were formed: the First Transport Aviation Group (renamed in 1944 as the 10th

The Great Patriotic War

Guards Aviation Division); and the Special Communica­tions Aviation Group (later to become the 3rd Communications Aviation Division). The fleets were com­posed of the former aircraft of Aeroflot, plus a number of obsolete types no longer useful as military equipment, such as the TB-3 (ANT-6) four-engined bomber, designed back in 1930, but still useful as a load-carrier. Additionally, 15 Detached Aviation Regiments were formed in 1943. Equipped with Poiikarpov U-2/Po-2s, these units were highly mobile, providing close support to individual regi­ments at the front line, with ambulance, reconnaissance, and communications missions.


With their backs to the wall in 1942 and the early part of 1943, the Soviet armed forces gladly accepted any help they could get, from whatever source. Paramount among such efforts was the American Lend-Lease program, and among the thousands of aircraft ferried from the east (see opposite) were hundreds of Douglas C-47s, which were promptly delivered to the First Detached Aviation Division, for operations on the Central Front, where they were joined by their matching twins Lisunov Li-2s, manufactured at Tashkent under a DC-3 license from Douglas, negotiated through AMTORG.

Other help to augment the meager resources of Aeroflot during the desperate conflict came from an unexpected source. Between 31 January and 2 February, the city of Stalingrad was the site of one of the greatest victories of the Great Patriotic War — or of any war. During the final days of the doomed German armies, they had been supplied by a large number of Junkers-Ju 52/3m transports. About 80 of

The Lisunov Li-2 was the transport workhorse for the Soviet Union during the Great Patriotic War. (photo: Boris Vdovienko)

The Great Patriotic War

The Great Patriotic War

In the Arctic, aircraft frequently stuck in the snow when icing effec­tively glued them to the runway. Such scenes as this were familiar in the north. The aircraft is an ANT-7, (photo: Boris Vdovienko) these abandoned ‘Tante Ju’s’ were repaired and put into ser­vice with Aeroflot.

A Great War Record

The Great Patriotic War ended on 9 May 1945. Aeroflot’s con­tribution to the war effort had been considerable, and was so recognized: 15,000 of its staff received medals and honors; 15 pilots were proclaimed Heroes of the Soviet Union; six of the Front-line Sections became Guards Units; and ten Sections were awarded special medals. They had been well earned. During the War, Aeroflot had carried 2,300,000 passengers and 300,000 tons of freight, including materiel and medical supplies. Of the passengers, 330,000 were wounded soldiers.

The Great Patriotic War

The Great Patriotic War

A Soviet Navy GST (license-built Consolidated 28 Catalina) at Khabarovsk in the early 1940s. The military GST was also used for passenger transport along with a few civil versions (designated MP – 7) built for Aeroflot. The pilot on the right is Mikhail Vodopyanov, (photo: Far Eastern Regional Directorate Museum, Khabarovsk)

A Poiikarpov U-2 (Po-2), diminutive maid-of-all-work, was to be seen everywhere during the War. This Aeroflot U-2 (SSSR-L3373) pictured at Tobolsk in 1941 has a sliding canopy enclosed cockpit- for the pilot, and three passenger windows in the fuselage and con­tainers underneath the wings, (photo: Boris Vdovienko)