Russians Recall Historic Flight Crew, Received By FDR
June 19, 2007 (LPAC)--This week marks the 70th anniversary of the first non-stop airplane flight over the North Pole, which was accomplished June 18-20, 1937 by a Soviet crew under aviator V.P. Chkalov. There has been big publicity for the anniversary in the Russian media, including articles from RIA Novosti, Pravda.ru, and a long piece in the widely read weekly Argumenty i fakty.
Chkalov was trying to fly his ANT-25 from Moscow to San Francisco, but had to land at an air base outside Vancouver, British Columbia, after 63 hours in the air and with no fuel left. Another Soviet crew, using lessons about weather, altitude, and oxygen, learned from Chkalov's flight, completed the Moscow-San Francisco route over the North Pole the next month, and set a so-called "straight-line" (actually great-circle) non-stop flight record of 10,148 km.
At a difficult point in history--shortly before World War II, in the midst of the Great Depression, and during the Soviet purge trials--the Franklin Roosevelt administration treated the transpolar flight as a milestone in Soviet-American relations, even though it landed in Canada. Chkalov and his crew were received by FDR at the White House. They toured the USA and Canada, giving press conferences in Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, and New York.
Argumenty i fakty comments that "the most important thing was that [the flight] laid a new basis for mutual understanding between the Soviet and American peoples." Journalist Katerina Belkina also recalls that this was still the early age of aviation, when it was seen not as a mere means of transportation, but "as a technical demonstration that man is the crown of nature."