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The first ever nonstop flight Moscow – North Pole – Vancouver took off

18 June 1937

June 18, 1937 launched the world's first non-stop flight Moscow - North Pole - Vancouver (Washington, USA) performed by the crew of ANT-25 which included the crew commander – V. P. Chkalov, co-pilot – G. F. Baidukov and navigator - A. V. Belyakov. The flight ended June 20.

December 7, 1931 the Soviet government made the decision to organize in the summer of 1932 a flight at maximum range of 13, 000 kilometers and to construct for this purpose the aircraft designed by A. N. Tupolev with the motor M-34 by A. A. Mikulin. A special committee was set up to address the issues related to the development and construction of the aircraft, to the improvement of the engine M-34, as well as to the design and construction of the first Soviet concrete runway 1, 800 meters long. Drawings and calculations for the future machine and its systems were entrusted to engineering team from the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI), led by aircraft designer Pavel Sukhoy.

Two aircrafts ANT-25, similar in construction, were built up at the same time. The main difference between the machines was that the "double" had the geared engine M-34R and the modified rudder. June 13, 1933 was constructed a prototype ANT-25 (RD) with gearless engine M-34. September 1, 1933 the construction of the "double" was completed. During the finalization and preparation for a series of flights, the construction and equipment of the machines were made identical.

By 1935, the ANT-25 had undergone a difficult path of testing, upgrades and improvements. All-metal cantilever monoplane with high aspect ratio wings and chassis-electric lifting mechanism, as well as the perfect for the time piloting and navigation equipment, was elaborated to establish world records in distant non-stop flights. In Shchelkovo airport near Moscow was built a runway with solid concrete floors and a 12-meter hill at the beginning for faster acceleration.

In early 1933, for testing and implementation of long-haul flights on aircrafts ANT-25, two crews were formed, which included Air Force pilots and navigators, who had wide experience of test flights, including those in bad weather. The first crew included M. Gromov, A. Filin, I. Spirin; the second - A. Yumashev, P. Stefanovsky and S. Danilin.

In autumn 1934, during the latest tests of ANT-25; the crew of M. Gromov in 75 hours of continuous flight covered 12, 411 kilometers, setting a new world record for distance. For this achievement the crew was awarded the Order of Lenin, and the commander of the aircraft was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.

August 3, 1935 on the Arctic version of ANT-25 the crew under the command of polar pilot S. Levanevsky, co-pilot G. Baydukov and navigator V. Levchenko attempted a flight from Moscow to San Francisco (USA) over the North Pole. The flight was aborted due to technical problems. The failure jeopardized the reputation of the aircraft and had prompted discussions about inaccessibility of the Arctic. But A. N. Tupolev, confident of unique flying possibilities of ANT-25, insisted that the work on long-haul flights continued. G. Bajdukov was in solidarity with him on this issue, he knew well the plane and was one of the best specialists in the country in piloting using navigation instruments, which was necessary for Arctic flights. He actively involved himself in the fight to save the ANT-25 program and Tupolev’s authority. Realizing that no one would allow him, the former member of the crew of S. Levanevsky, to make transpolar flights without an authoritative person enjoying the confidence of the highest echelons of power, G. Bajdukov persuaded his friend V. Chkalov to try ANT-25, and the latter was captivated by the aircraft. Offering V. Chkalov to head the crew, he said: "Belyakov and I wish you to be the commander of the crew and to carry out two tasks - get permission to fly to the United States through the pole on ANT-25 and take the overloaded machine off safely. The fulfillment of these two objectives equals to 50% of success in the flight to America through the pole, Alexander Vasilyevich and I will do the other half ourselves." Chkalov’s authority, his flying skills favored the resumption of training for a record flight over the North Pole to the U. S.

Stalin approved the idea to continue the training and the new crew, but first requested a preliminary "test flight" within the country: Moscow - Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Due to the fact that the distance to Kamchatka is much less than ANT-25 could make, the pilots convinced the government to approve a route to Nikolaevsk-on-Amur including the flying over the northern seas to test the aircraft and its systems in arctic conditions. Under the general supervision of the Chief of the Operations Department, flight testing and development of the TsAGI, E. Stoman, a thorough training of the aircraft and the crew began.

July 20, 1936 at 5:45 a heavily loaded ANT-25 with a crew consisting of the test pilots of the Research and Testing Institute of the Air Force, Valery Chkalov, Georgy Baydukov and instructor of the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy, Alexander Belyakov took off from the Shchelkovo airport and headed down the "Stalinist route": Moscow – Victoria Island - Franz Josef Land - Northern Land - Tiksi Bay - Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. In case of favorable conditions, the route was to be extended to Nikolaevsk-on-Amur.

July 22, 1936 at 15 h 20 min., having passed the cyclones, Chkalov managed to land a huge airship is 33 km from the north-western tip of Sakhalin Island, on a small Udd Island (Chkalov Island). In 56 hours 20 minutes the ANT-25 crew had flown 9, 374 km (8, 750 km straight). Of these, 5, 140 km the aircraft was flying over the Barents Sea and the Okhotsk Sea, the Arctic Ocean. The whole resource base, including a power plant, functioned well; there were some problems with communication, but it was mainly the problem of organization of the work of ground stations. The design of the ANT-25 for long-haul non-stop flights completely proved its value. During the flight it became clear how dangers the icing could be, particularly the icing of the airscrew. In two weeks, a domestic construction of airscrew defroster was developed and installed on the ANT-25. For this flight, all the crew members were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, proving in practice that they could proceed to the next stage - the flight over the North Pole. The flight had drawn a wide international response, red-plane labeled "Stalin's route" was presented at the World Air Show in Paris, where it enjoyed great success.

Valery Chkalov's crew continued to prepare for the Trans-Arctic flight together with designers, mechanics and machinists of OELID TsAGI. They improved the aircraft, based on the experience obtained in the most difficult "test flight".

May 25, 1937 a resolution of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU (B.) on "Flights" was issued, authorizing the crew of Chkalov Baydukovand Belyakov to perform a nonstop flight from Moscow – to San Francisco via the North Pole (on board of ANT-25). In case of emergency during the flight the pilots had to make a landing before San Francisco, in one of the cities in Canada or North America. The flight was scheduled for June - July.

To ensure the flight radio stations of the Northern Sea Route were involved. Steamers and icebreakers of the Northern Fleet were prepared to proved immediate assistance in case of emergency. A network of radio stations was set up in Canada and the United States in order to receive messages from the board and transfer the information to the board.

June 18, 1937, at 1h 05 min (UTC), 4h 05 min Moscow time, from the Moscow airport Shchelkovo ("Chkalovsky" airfield, Shchelkovo district, Moscow region) took off ANT-25 (RD - "Range Record") and headed for the North Pole. Crew commander was Valery Chkalov, the relief pilot, navigator and radio telegraphist - George Baidukov, navigator and radio operator - Alexander Belyakov.

"I ran the plane down the concrete track. The most difficult, the most complex flight began. The engine roaring at full throttle carried the plane. Now, the most important was not to turn off the road. With every second plane was picking up the speed. Last greetings to those who were seeing us off, and I take off the aircraft from the ground. Jumping up once or twice, the car remains hanging in the air. Baidukov clears the chassis. Hangars, factory chimneys are darting past. We are flying. Below us there are forests, fields and rivers. It’s morning. The country is waking up," wrote Valery Chkalov about the start of the famous flight Moscow - North Pole – America.

After five hours of flight Chkalov discovered the leakage of oil, but did not turn back. Some time later, a leak had slowed. First cyclone was waiting them over the European part of the country. The crew had to use the screw defroster and then gain the height of 3, 000 meters. They were fighting with the threat of icing going down below the clouds and then rising above them. No less dangerous was the failure of the cooling system. At any moment the engine could seize up. In a cramped and unpressurized cabin temperature dropped below zero, and at high altitudes there was a shortage of oxygen.

After a day of flight ANT-25 approached the North Pole.

June 19, at 4h 15 min, polar explorers at the "North Pole-1" station heard the sound of engines of the aircraft flying over the North Pole.

Meteorologists’ assumptions that in the central part of the polar basin the top of the cloud will not exceed 3, 500 m had not confirmed. This created additional difficulties for the crew obliging them to go up above the clouds. Over the Canadian part of the Arctic the plane rose to 5, 750 meters, making partly a blind flight. Iced plane was shaking and the first time in 37-hour flight they had to slow down the engine speed as much as possible. Hoping to find safer layers of air, ANT-25 descended to an altitude of 3, 000 meters and gave a level. They were running out of oxygen supply. Temperature in the cabin was close to zero.

June 19 at 13 h 50 min. the crew reached the coast of Canada. From there they turned to the west, to overcome one more heavy obstacles - the Rocky Mountains. There came the most difficult part of the flight. Suffering from the lack of oxygen was getting stronger. They flying blindly to overcome the cloudiness, accompanied by icing; the aircraft was climbing up to 6, 100 meters, the temperature overboard was minus 20 degrees. June 20, at 00 h 40 min. they ran out of oxygen, but by morning of ANT-25 was already flying along the ocean coast, taking radio signals from Anchorage, Seattle and San Francisco. Due to the strong headwinds, they had spent more fuel than expected, gasoline stocks did not allow to continue the flight to San Francisco, where the landing was scheduled.

June 20 at 16 h 20 min. GT, Chkalov’s aircraft landed at an airport on the outskirts of Portland, Vancouver. Fuel in the tanks was almost gone. The crew completed the flight Moscow - Kola Peninsula - Barents Sea - Franz Josef Land - North Pole - Melville Island - Island Banks - Pier Point - Queen Charlotte Islands - Vancouver - Portland. In 63 h 16 min the aircraft flew over 9, 130 kilometers (8, 582 km in a straight line), which was approved as a national record of the Soviet Union, but the world record for distance was not beaten - it was already made by the crew of another ANT-25, led by M. Gromov.

America met pilots as heroes. Instead of the planned fifteen minute conversation, President Roosevelt had spoken to the Soviet crew for an hour and forty minutes. In New York, the pilots were offered a grand welcome in the streets.

In 1989, A. N. Tupolev’s design department built a replica of the ANT-25, which was transferred to the Central Museum of the Air Force (city of Monino, Moscow region) and took in the museum a place of honor.

Lit.: Байдуков Г. Москва — Северный полюс — США. Год 1937 // Новая и новейшая история. 1987. № 2. С. 96-124; Кузьмина Л. Генеральный конструктор Павел Сухой. М., 1983; Ригмант В. Самолёт АНТ-25 (РД) — история великих перелётов: [К 75-летию первого полёта] // Авиация и космонавтика. 2008. № 7. С. 31-40; Чкалова В. Чкалов без грифа «Секретно». М., 1999.

From the Presidential library materials:

Expedition into the high latitudes in order to transfer of the employees of the ‘North Pole 1’ station began 75 years ago // On this day. 22 March 1937.

The material provided by the Krupskays State Scintific Library of Moskow Region.