If I had to, I could tell the story of the Bolkhovitinov DB-A ("Dalny Bombardirovshchik-Academia" = "Long-range Bomber-Academy") within five sentences. But I think, this is not what you aircraft enthusiasts are after, especially when I consider Greg's primary request for "anecdotes". The trouble this time is, I really had a too good source. I did not have to translate this time, although the very truth is, I already had made a translation from another source, and rejected it (except a little part I placed at the end) for what I got else. I also did not use airwar.ru this time, only some of the pictures. The article in airwar.ru literally stops when the transpolar flight of the aircraft begins, so it is not of much use. But googling after the name of the aircraft's test pilot Kastanayev, his stunts are mentioned below, who if you follow airwar.ru was accused by a colleague named Tumanskiy for covering up design flaws of the DB-A, because he wanted to nurture and share the transpolar project, I found this nearly-a-novel article by a celebrity of Soviet aerodynamics.
It is nobody less than Boris Yevseyevich Chertok, for long years deputy chief of the Soviet space program. Writing in the "I" perspective, in his youth he, and other Soviet space pioneers with him, shared in the development of the Bolkhovitinov DB-A. The article is from his autobiography, volume I, chapters "In the Bolkhovitinov Design Bureau and KOSTR (Design Department for Construction)", and "Arctic Triumphs and Tragedies", pages 99 to 137. I cut out parts showing a too much personal background for being interesting for my praised audience here, but I think I had to leave a lot of space for the pre- and post-flight activities in the Arctic region.
The complete title isn't even given! If you prefer to read it as a whole, here is the link to download the PDF file: http://history.nasa....4110/vol1-2.pdf (link dead, send me a PM to receive it before bothering the NASA, RT, 07/27/2013). It really pays, if you like to know more about the times before and after Chertok worked on the DB-A.
I also felt the need to correct one or two little invonveniences to what I think is fine use of English language. The result is lenghty, I admit, at least you need half an hour to read. But if you like to consume a heroic-dramatic story, if you start to imagine the roaring sound of the engines, the smell of gasoline, oil and exhausts, the hammering of the mechanics in the workshops and the discussions of the developers in front of the drawing boards, the cheers of the Moscow parade audience and, if you are a really hard-boiled person, the thought that at 3 o'clock in the morning the NKVD might come knocking on your door (the story plays mainly in summer of 1937, near the summit of the repressions), you will get a GOT article experience like you never had before!
I could not cut out the names of persons that had been introduced on chapters before or during passages I had cut out. For not always interrupting the text, they are quite a lot, they show up here in order of their appearance:
Yakov Ivanovich Alksnis, C-in-C of the Red Army Air Forces (VVS), for his deed of initiating the development of the Ilyushin Il-2 one of the fathers of the Soviet victory in WWII. His fate is mentioned below.
Olga Aleksandrovna Mitkevich, appointed organizer by the Central Committee of the Communist Party for "Factory No. 22", a giant armaments-industrial complex and cradle of the Bolkhovitinov design group. Later she even became director of No. 22. Opposing the purges, she personally turned to Stalin for protest - and disappeared herself.
Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevskiy, Marshal of the USSR and C-in-C of the Red Army. Of exceptional intelligence and leadership qualities the only hope in this time to counter-balance Stalin's power, he of course was liquidated, having been accused of "Bonapartism".
Sergo Ordzhonikidze, The People's Commissar for Heavy Industry, a Georgian and personal friend of Stalin. When one time the NKVD searched his house, the leading officer produced a pistol and placed it on Ordzhonikidze's desk. Ordzhonikidze called Stalin on the telephone, asking what the hell was going on. Stalin replied "Don't worry, this could happen to me too at any day!" Ordzhonikidze decided to make use of the pistol.
Mikhail Moiseyevich Kaganovich, brother of Politburo member Lazar Moiseyevich Kaganovich. The latter a strict follower of Stalin and a bonafide bloodhound, the former Glavaviaprom (supervising authority of the USSR's aircraft industry) chief and a bonafide aircraft industry dilettante.
Aleksey Mikhaylovich Isayev, leading rocket engine developing engineer of the USSR.
Nikolay Nikolayevich Godovikov, director of flight mechanics of Factory No. 22 and flight engineer of the N-209, a close personal friend of Chertok.
Boris Nikolayevich Tarasevich, follower of Olga Mitkevich as technical director of Factory No. 22. Before, he had spent some time in prison for the (false, of course) accusation of illegal activities.
Mikhail Vasilyevich Vodopyanov, arctic pilot and Hero of the Soviet Union for his share of rescuing victims of the sunk steamship Chelyuskin.
Semyon Gavrilovich Chizhikov, engineer and designer of technical instruments.
Vladimir Petrovich Gorbunov, aircraft engineer and later first "G" of the LaGG construction bureau.
Leonid Lvovich Kerber, primarily supposed radio operator of the N-209. Below his sudden disappearance is reported. But Kerber survived NKVD prison and lived until 1993.
Maks Arkadyevich Tayts, leader of the flight plan group of the N-209 and chief calculator of the project.
?.?. Alshvang, an aircraft engineer-designer.
Start of Chertok's report:
At the end of 1933, an action committee of leading scientists from the N.Ye. Zhukovskiy Air Force Academy developed the design for a long-range, heavy four-engined bomber that in the near future was to replace the TB-3, which was becoming obsolete. Given the achievements in aircraft technology, it was proposed that a bomber be produced that would be a qualitatively new step in aircraft construction. It was to reach a speed of up to 330 kilometers per hour, fly at an altitude of 6,000–7,000 meters, and carry up to 5,000 kilograms of bombs with a maximum range of 5,000 kilometers.
Air Force Chief Alksnis approached Mitkevich, proposing that a special design bureau be set up at Factory No. 22 to develop the Akademiya long-range bomber, known also as the DB-A. Glavaviaprom (the Chief Directorate of the Aviation Industry), Tukhachevskiy, and Ordzhonikidze approved the proposal, and the factory’s own experimental design bureau was established. In contrast with the series production KOSTR, they called this design bureau KB-22, or the Bolkhovitinov KB. This was the last large enterprise that Mitkevich succeeded in setting up at Alksnis’s initiative.
The team had been almost completely staffed, but did not yet have a leader. They were designing a new bomber and needed to exercise the maximum initiative and inventiveness in order to increase to the maximum extent the aircraft’s defense capabilities under fighter attack and its bombing precision.They suggested that we get to work immediately.The new bomber, the future pride and glory of our Air Force,was supposed to take off by March 1935! Bolkhovitinov took it upon himself to arrange everything required for the ESBR tests at the Air Force NII and also assigned me an assistant.
Twenty-four hours later, I met the team entrusted to me. There were already ten individuals on the team: four engineers, three technician/designers, two drafters, and a copyist.With the exception of the female drafters and copyist, this was the first time any of them had worked in aircraft design—right in a new KB.They put their full trust in me despite the fact that I, a second-year student, was supposed to teach them what was what. Bolkhovitinov had already called them together and told them that the team chief would be a skilled and experienced employee of Factory No. 22: Chertok.
My experience in industry and the general creative atmosphere of Bolkhovitinov KB helped me to acclimate myself to my new role of design team leader. Assembled here was a fellowship of diverse aviation enthusiasts, but they were all likeminded in their desire to break up Tupolev’s monopoly on heavy aircraft. Bolkhovitinov and the scientists who had come with him—Air Force Academy
professors—differed from most production workers in their unusual degree of culture and democracy. This trait created an atmosphere of good will, openness, and mutual assistance.There was no shouting or even conversations in an elevated tone; there was invariable civility, equal treatment regardless of rank, and respect for the opinions of others. Such was the psychological climate in our young work force.
After returning to the Bolkhovitinov KB at Fili after a business trip, I would fall into a regime of endless workdays with no days off. A struggle was going on, not only over the speed of the future aircraft, but also over the speed of its creation. Three military engineers first class comprised the KB’s nerve center— Bolkhovitinov, Shishmarev, and Kuritskes. It was risky for Bolkhovitinov, who was named chief designer, to take on the production of a heavy aircraft that would compete with Tupolev’s ANT-6 without having the industrial experience of an aircraft builder under his belt. His striving for innovation was manifest particularly in the unrealized project of a superheavy aircraft that would be able to deploy tanks. Bolkhovitinov was absolutely decent, technically erudite, and competent in design problems.
The one-to-one scale wooden mockup of the aircraft was a great help in our work. It was used to work out the layout of the pilots’ and navigator’s cockpits, the field of view, and the area of engagement, as well as to resolve debates on ergonomics. Before the final release of the drawings into production, a special Air Force Directorate mockup commission inspected and approved the mockup.After this, changes to the layout were forbidden. Alksnis headed the first mockup commission, on which I was one of the developers’ representatives. Until then, I had seen Alksnis only one time, at an all-factory meeting in 1932.
Our military chiefs had a high opinion of Alksnis. In Bolkhovitinov’s opinion, Alksnis, the head of the Air Force since 1931, displayed rare persistence in the complex tasks of building an air fleet. He did not strictly limit himself to the militarycommand sphere. Alksnis devoted great attention to drawing up proposals for the development of aircraft technology. He monitored its testing, organized long-range flights, and introduced military specialists into industry. He considered it necessary to personally head the mockup commission, enabling him to establish direct contact with the leading specialists of aircraft KBs.
Well-known Air Force NII test pilots Nyukhtikov, Stefanovskiy, and Air Force Chief Navigator Sterligov joined Alksnis on the DB-A mockup commission. Before the mockup inspection, Bolkhovitinov made a general speech about the main features of the aircraft. He spoke quietly and calmly, as one accustomed to reading lectures at the Academy.
“The DB-A has a flight weight of 24 metric tons, 6 tons greater than the TB-3. As a result, the bomb load can be increased and the range increased up to 8,000 km.The DB-A has a smooth, rather than corrugated skin, and very importantly, after takeoff, the landing gear can be retracted into a special fairing or “trousers.”We have designed for a speed of at least 330 km/h at an altitude of up to 8,000 m. In contrast with the TB-3, the aircraft’s fuselage has a load-bearing monocoque construction—the entire skin contributes to its strength.The frames have no-load bearing bars partitioning the interior space.Therefore, the aircraft is very spacious and convenient for cargo transport.”
Having attentively listened to Bolkhovitinov’s account of the basic specifications of the new bomber, Alksnis began to size it up first-hand. He sat in the pilot’s and copilot’s seats, crawled through the hatch into the navigator’s cockpit, which, given his heroic stature, was no easy feat, and meticulously interrogated us—the aircraft creators—sometimes asking the most unexpected questions. It seemed to us that he found the most fault with the degree of comfort afforded the pilots during prolonged flight, with the radio communications equipment, and with the defensive weaponry. Later, during a mockup commission meeting, he raised the last issue with Bolkhovitinov specifically: “The bomber should have powerful guns, to the extent possible, leaving no blind spots that would enable the safe approach of fighter aircraft. On your aircraft the rear and especially the lower hemispheres are poorly protected. This is a shortcoming of the TB-3. Although both the DB-A’s altitude and speed are much greater, all the same, fighter aircraft will very soon be 100–150 kilometers/hour faster.”
Over dinner, which was always held after the mockup commission’s work was completed, the conversation turned to the role of heavy bombers.They did not forget to mention Douhet’s doctrine. In this regard someone asked Alksnis if he would approve the production of Tupolev’s six-engine, superheavy TB-4 bomber. This airplane had four engines located in nacelles distributed over the wingspan and two engines installed on either side of the fuselage. It was a giant with no equal in the world until the construction of the ANT-20 (Maxim Gorky). Alksnis responded extremely negatively about getting carried away with these slow behemoths and asked Bolkhovitinov to prepare proposals for a higher-speed, higher altitude, and longer-range aircraft than the DB-A. Nevertheless, over the course of this dinner we gave toasts to the successful flight of the DB-A. On 2 May 1935, the DB-A completed its first flight.
Picture #1: Bolkhovitinov DB-A, early layout.
My second meeting with Alksnis, also at the Bolkhovitinov KB, took place in early 1936. Alksnis arrived with the specifications for the American Boeing long-range bomber, the B-17 Flying Fortress. Its flight tests had already begun.Bolkhovitinov and Kuritskes arranged various design drawings of our next bomber, referred to as B, on the desk for comparison.The specifications were to our advantage. But the deadlines! “The B-17 is already flying,” Alksnis said, “when will your ‘B’ fly?” Bolkhovitinov replied that if Factory No. 22 undertook this project with all due speed, then B could be produced in two years.The factory workforce of designers, process engineers, and production workers would go on to prove that we were capable of this feat.
The discussion then at Fili with Alksnis three and a half years before the beginning of World War II essentially had to do with the role of the strategic air force in a future war. For some reason, the fact that a war was inevitable did not disturb any of us.We all believed that this was the natural development of the historical process of the world’s first proletarian dictatorship’s struggle with the hostile, capitalist world.
Agreeing that the obsolete TB-3s needed to be replaced and that there was clearly no need for such monsters as the TB-4, Alksnis then spoke in favor of combining the properties of a bomber and a fighter.This was the first time I had heard this. His wish was not met with enthusiasm in our company. And as far as aircraft B was concerned, he said that we needed to consult with Glavaviaprom since Tupolev was now building the TB-7 (ANT-42).We were hardly in a position to have several models of heavy bombers in series production. The TB-7 was constantly plaguing our thoughts. It was a thorn in our side.
Besides Tupolev being Tupolev, he was also very close to Mikhail Kaganovich and Sergo Ordzhonikidze, who at that time, together with Alksnis, primarily determined which aircraft would be put into series production. Nobody opposed the construction of one or two experimental aircraft. On the contrary, KBs were multiplying in the mid-1930s, and each had its own conception of air supremacy on which it based this or that type of aircraft. But the road to a series production factory, much less to acceptance as a standard armament, was much more complicated and more difficult than developing an aircraft in one or two years that fit the latest trends in the capricious world of aircraft design. At the factory, our new DB-A aircraft was nicknamed Annushka. Its assembly ran behind schedule, reflecting the young design collective’s lack of production process experience. In the OS shop we had to fit many parts on site. The fitters’ wealth of experience smoothed over the young designers’ mistakes.
The semiretractable landing gear mechanism, Isayev’s first independent work in the world of aviation, required various modifications.The enormous wheels were supposed to be synchronously pulled under the fairings of the special “trousers” to their supports, and in reverse, they were to be reliably locked in place and a signal sent indicating readiness for landing. A hydraulic system controlled the landing gear’s retraction and lowering. Compressed air from tanks, which could be filled using a special compressor, produced pressure in the power cylinders. In case of a hydraulics failure, a manual winch provided an emergency lowering system. Nikolay Godovikov had attempted to lower the landing gear manually and said that you need to take a strongman with you into the air. Isayev himself was not equal to the task, either.
In the OS shop, the testers of the series-produced SB, demonstrating the speed and ease with which the landing gear of this aircraft retracted, bad-mouthed Annushka quite a bit because she could not learn to pull the gear up into the fairings quickly.
At the airfield, the grueling process had begun of running the engines, adjusting the variable-pitch propellers, calibrating the gas gauge, and making endless modifications to the exhaust manifolds. The exhaust pipes burned on the new Mikulin M-34FRN augmented, geared, and supercharged engines. They were constantly being modified.
My workday started at the the airfield.Together with engineers from other factories, I took advantage of the engine testing to check and adjust the voltage stabilizers and radio equipment. Factory test pilot Nikolay Grigorievich Kastanayev, who just barely squeezed into the SB’s tight cockpit, patiently waited for our plane to be ready for its first flight. Finally it was time for flight tests and landing runs. During one of the approaches the landing gear broke.
Picture #2: Probably taken after the event mentioned above.
Winter set in, and for Annushka’s flight tests we had to switch the landing gear to skis. The first flights went well—if you don’t count the usual leaks in the engines’ lubrication systems. I participated in the flights, checking the new, high-powered aircraft radio station along with the radio engineer Traskin from the Gorkovskiy Radio Factory. The primary radio equipment was located in the tail section of the spacious fuselage, in the sound-proof radio operator’s cockpit.The transmitters and receivers of that time were crammed with dozens of electronic tubes that were very sensitiveto the jolts and vibrations generated by the aircraft’s engines during takeoffs and landings. To protect the equipment from overloads, we suspended all the instruments containing tubes in spring shock absorbers. Nevertheless, during a rough landing, the heavy transmitter would hit against the frame. In these cases Traskin would replace the powerful transmitting tube.
After ten flights or so, the aircraft was broken in. During the frosty days of February 1936 they scheduled a show of new aircraft technology at the airfield in Monino. Having brilliantly demonstrated Annushka’s rate of climb and maneuverability, Kastanayev decided to end the show by making an impression on thehigh-ranking military leaders in attendance. He came up with the idea of executing a low-altitude fly-by of the reviewing stand where Tukhachevskiy, Alksnis, and many other high-ranking chiefs were sitting. Once he had gained altitude, he began to dive at the airfield to gain high speed. Suddenly one of his landing-gear skis, which were drawn up to the fairings, turned 90 degrees under the effect of the approach flow. The aircraft now had an uncontrollable elevator that threatened to drive it into the ground.
I will not presume to describe the feelings that seized the spectators—the aircraft creators—at such moments. I wanted to close my eyes tightly so that I would not see the horrible end. Seconds remained before the inevitable crash, but suddenly the engines revved down and the aircraft began to cock its nose. Its speed decreased sharply. At the very ground the ski grudgingly went back into place. Now Kastanayev was headed for a wall of pine trees. But he managed to give it the gas and accelerated into a climb. He flew right over the forest, circled, safely landed, and taxied to a stop.
Picture #3: DB-A on skis.
During the investigation of this critical incident, they discovered that the shock-absorbing cord that held the tip of the ski against the aircraft had not been designed for the torque generated by dynamic pressure. Isayev had personally selected and calculated the diameter of the cord. The aircraft was saved thanks to Kastanayev’s composure and exceptional physical strength. He pulled the control wheel toward his body with tremendous effort, using the elevator to overcome the nose-down moment generated by the skis. He succeeded. By spring, the factory tests were completed and flights for the state test program and record-breaking flights had begun. At that time, setting world records was more than just a matter of prestige for aircraft designers and pilots. Each new aircraft had to set some kind of record. Annushka had set many Soviet and four world records. Nikolay Grigoriyevich Kastanayev, Georgiy Filippovich Baydukov, and Mikhail Aleksandrovich Nyukhtikov completed record-breaking flights (Contributor BigPanzer, link see below, from forum.axishistory.com: In November 1936 DB-A broke two world records - the bomber reached 7032 m altitude with 10 t of cargos and 4553 m with 13 t of cargos. In May 1937 two new world records were broken - speed 280 km/h with 5 t of cargos at 1000 km distance and speed 246 km/h with 5 t of cargos at 2000 km distance).
In the 1936 May Day parade, our Annushka flew full speed over Red Square. Kastanayev executed a steep ascending banking turn. This gripping spectacle provoked a storm of delight. Once again, as in 1932 when the first TB-3s flew over the square, I got a lump in my throat from sheer joy. Now I was walking not at the head of a factory column with workers from the vanguard OS shop, but somewhere in the middle with a crowd of design intelligentsia.
Tupolev had already started his public relations campaign to prepare the TB-7 (ANT-42) for series production. Tarasevich convinced Glavaviaprom, where Chief Designer Tupolev was also chief engineer, that DB-A series production should be set up at the Kazan Aircraft Factory. The decision was made and sanctioned by the People’s Commissariat for Heavy Industry. They proposed that Bolkhovitinov and his entire workforce transfer to Kazan. This was a heavy blow to our young KB. Bolkhovitinov could not refuse—that would have meant the refusal to introduce an aircraft into series production. All of the KB workers received orders to leave for Kazan, initially for a prolonged temporary duty, and from then on, we would see.
For the Bolkhovitinov KB, 1936 ended with the tortuous work on the series production of the DB-A in Kazan. The mood in the collective was pessimistic. The series was limited to six aircraft, justified by the need for preliminary troop trials. Glavaviaprom was trying to buy time in order to begin the ANT-42 flight tests (this was the TB-7, later renamed the Pe-8). This aircraft surpassed the DB-A on all parameters. At an altitude of 8,000 meters, it could reach speeds in excess of 400 kilometers per hour. The new four-engine bomber actually had five engines—an engine with a compressor that supercharged the four engines for altitude performance and could supply air to the pressurized crew cabins was installed on the center wing section. Subsequently they did away with this fifth engine, having installed Mikulin AM-34FRNV self-supercharging engines.The TB-7 had powerful defensive weaponry. Based on all tactical flight parameters, the ANT-42 surpassed the Boeing Flying Fortress which appeared a year later. The creation of such an aircraft was a very great achievement for Tupolev’s collective and the Soviet aircraft industry.
In spite of these new designs, Annushka’s modernization continued. They installed boosted M-34FRN engines with turbo compressors and variable-pitch propellers. Instead of pulling the landing gear up into “trousers,” it was fully retracted. The turret in the center portion of the fuselage was equipped with a ShVAK machine gun and a drive.Two machine guns providing a 360-degree field of fire were installed in the cockpits under the center section of the wings.The crewmembers increased from six to eleven. These substantial improvements did not help, however.Tupolev’s TB-7 began to fly in the spring of 1937, and based on all parameters, immediately moved far, far ahead of our Annushka.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, exciting events took place in connection with the exploration of the Arctic. The Arctic was still an area where heroism could be fully displayed. The press and radio widely publicized the work of Arctic stations and expeditions, particularly emphasizing the romance associated withconquering the Arctic. The enormous significance of the Arctic regions to the
economy of the Soviet Union was so obvious that no one questioned the expenditures necessary to open them up. Events associated with Arctic explorations aroused passionate feelings in the most diverse social strata. The excitement generated by every Arctic adventure was also of great political significance. Public attention was somewhat distracted from the difficulties of daily life, the repressions, and the food crisis that had developed as a result of collectivization in the countryside.
The successes in opening up the Arctic raised the Soviet Union’s international prestige.The intelligentsia, isolated from cultural and scientific interaction with the outside world, saw in Arctic research a hope for international collaboration. Society was united in the fact that the Arctic must be Soviet.
This outward appearance of solidarity was very advantageous for the Stalinist leadership. The heroic feats of icebreaker crews, polar pilots, and men who wintered at Arctic stations; the record-setting flights of Soviet aircraft; and the rescue of expeditions in distress were a graphic demonstration of the unity of our whole society for the common goals of mankind. The headlines of all the newspapers—and the radio broadcasts, which were only just becoming popular—reported on the rescue of the Italian Nobile expedition by the icebreakers Krasin and Malygin in 1928, as well as the international Arctic expedition of a German Zeppelin in 1931, and the voyage of the icebreaker Aleksandr Sibiryakov, which in 1932 completed the first nonstop voyage from the White Sea to the Bering Sea along the North Sea Route.
The Main Directorate of the North Sea Route, Glavsevmorput, was established in 1932. It was directly subordinate to the Council of Peoples’ Commissars. Otto Yulyevich Shmidt, a well-known scientist and leader of polar expeditions, was appointed director of Glavsevmorput. His deputy and chief of polar aviation was Mark Ivanovich Shevelev. In 1933, Shmidt attempted a nonstop voyage on the North Sea Route from Murmansk to Vladivostok in the steamship Chelyuskin. In February 1934, the ship was trapped and crushed by ice in the Chukchi Sea, and its many passengers, including women and children,were taking refuge on an ice floe. People of all social strata feared the fate of the expedition, and were thrilled by the heroism of the pilots who saved every last inhabitant of the Shmidt ice camp.
The Soviet pilots who participated in the rescue of the Chelyuskin disaster victims were the first in the USSR to receive the title Hero of the Soviet Union. Arctic pilot Sigizmund Aleksandrovich Levanevskiy was also among the first heroes. He came to fame in 1933 by rescuing American pilot Jimmy Mattern,who was trying to complete a solo round-the-world flight and crashed his plane near the Anadyr Range. Levanevskiy transported Mattern back to the United States. In the spring of 1935, Levanevskiy approached the government with a proposal to organize a transpolar flight from Moscow over the North Pole to the United States. He proposed using the Tupolev ANT-25 aircraft in which pilot Mikhail Gromov had set a world record for the longest nonstop flight. The Council of Labor and Defense adopted a resolution to arrange for a flight from Moscow to San Francisco. On 3 August, Levanevskiy, copilot Baydukov, and navigator Levchenko took off in the ANT-25 aircraft from the Air Force NII’s (Scientific Research Institute, RT) airfield in Shchelkovo, intending to land 63 hours later in San Francisco. The entire world followed the flight preparation and the flight itself with enormous interest. A successful flight would help establish closer political and economic relations with America.
According to foreign press assessments, this flight promised to be the most dangerous and the most remarkable in the history of aviation. Ten hours after takeoff, having flown only as far as the Barents Sea, the crew requested permission to terminate the flight on the designated route and return to the nearest airfield due to a defect in an oil line. Oil had spilled over the wing, flowed down onto the cockpit canopy, and leaked into the cockpit. The failure of the flight was a heavy blow to the prestige of the Soviet Union. Stalin decided to personally hear a report from the crew about the causes of the failure and their suggestions for the rehabilitation of our aviation. During the meeting with Stalin, Levanevskiy suddenly announced, “I don’t trust Tupolev! In my opinion, Tupolev is a saboteur. I will never fly one of his airplanes again!” The details of the discussion concerning the causes of the emergency, of course, never made it into print, but aviation circles learned about Levanevskiy’s declaration from meeting participant Baydukov, who was soon appointed chief pilot at Factory No. 22.
At the instruction of Air Force Commander Alksnis, Baydukov combined his work as a factory pilot with the testing of the ANT-25 aircraft that the Tupolev designers and mechanics had modified at the Central Airfield in Khodynka. Tupolev and his supporter Alksnis believed that the defect involving the oil leak was accidental, and they were convinced that in the near future the ANT-25 would be the only aircraft capable of executing a flight from Moscow to the United States over the Pole.
The work to finish the Tupolev aircraft was very intensive, in spite of the fact that at their previous meeting Stalin had instructed Levanevskiy to travel the United States and select and purchase an airplane that would be substantially more reliable than the single-engine RD (ANT-25). Stalin told Levanevskiy, “No matter how expensive your chosen airplane is, we will pay any amount of money.” I cite this quote of Stalin from Baydukov’s memoirs.
Levanevskiy and Levchenko departed for America. They did not succeed in finding an aircraft that was suitable for such long-range flights, but they bought three hydroplanes. Now it wasn’t Levanevskiy, but Baydukov who could make accusations of sabotage, if not against Tupolev himself, then against his coworkers. They had been responsible for optimizing and preparing the aircraft. This he did not do. By then, Baydukov’s father had already been repressed. They had not touched the younger Baydukov, acting on the principle that “the son is not responsible for the father.” They observed this principle until 1937. The black mark placed on Soviet aviation by Levanevskiy’s failed flight had to be erased as soon as possible.
On 20 June 1936, in a modified ANT-25, a crew comprised of Chkalov, Baydukov, and Belyakov executed a 9,734-kilometer flight over the north of the Soviet Union in a time of 56 hours and 20 minutes.This was an outstanding flight in the history of Soviet aviation. The crew landed on the island of Udd (now named Chkalov), then returned from the Far East with stopovers for festive receptions along the way back to Moscow. On this notable occasion, a command came “from the top” to find Baydukov’s father,who was in one of the NKVD’s camps, and bring him to his son’s native Omsk. They found him among prisoners building the railroad branch line from Khabarovsk to Komsomolsk. Baydukov barely recognized his haggard father, who had been strictly warned never to tell anyone anything about the camp. Georgiy Baydukov, through his participation in the heroic flight, saved his own father from death in the camp.
On 18 June 1937, the transpolar flight of Chkalov, Baydukov, and Belyakov began. Sixty-three hours and 25 minutes later, the ANT-25 landed in the United States at Pearson Field near the city of Vancouver, Washington.This flight opened the shortest route over the Arctic ice from the USSR to the United States.The celebration of this historic event had hardly subsided before the world heard about the beginning of the next transpolar flight.
On 12 July 1937, in the same type of Tupolev single-engine aircraft, Gromov, Danilin, and Yumashev departed for the United States from the Air Force NII’s airfield in Shchelkovo. After flying for 62 hours and 17 minutes they landed safely in the vicinity of Los Angeles, having broken the world records for nonstop flight along both a straight line and a broken line. I witnessed the public jubilation when the heroic pilots paraded through the streets of Moscow after their return from the United States, and I would say that the festive receptions for the Chkalov and Gromov crews was comparable to the public rejoicing that took place on 12 April 1961 (probably meaning Gagarin's first human space flight, RT).
Officially, our factory had nothing to do with the transpolar flights by the Chkalov and Gromov crews. But Georgiy Baydukov, whom Chkalov persistently called Yegor, was the copilot in Chkalov’s crew. As I have already mentioned, Baydukov was a test pilot at our factory in 1937. He not only tested the seriesproduced SBs, but also participated in DB-A flights along with Kastanayev and Nyukhtikov. In May 1937, Baydukov and Kastanayev set two speed records on the DB-A with a 5-ton load at ranges of 1,000 kilometers and 2,000 kilometers.
It had never occurred to Viktor Bolkhovitinov, our KB chief, or any of the other specialists who worked with him in Moscow or Kazan, to conduct a flight over the Pole in an aircraft that had not yet been made sufficiently reliable. I cannot in all certainty answer the question as to who was the first to come up with such an idea. According to the memoirs of Baydukov and Vodopyanov, Stalin was very favorably disposed toward Levanevskiy, in spite of the fact that he had relatives in Poland and his brother was a Polish military pilot. It is possible that Stalin was giving him his due for his past service during the Civil War, for his popularity in the United States after rescuing Mattern, or for his courage in his first attempt to complete a transpolar flight from Moscow to San Francisco.
Before Chkalov took off for the United States over the Pole, Levanevskiy was among those summoned to the Politburo. Stalin well remembered Levanevskiy’s failed attempt to complete a transpolar flight in an ANT-25 in August 1935, but he was also well aware of the cause of the failure. Baydukov had not forgotten that Levanevskiy originated the idea of flying over the Pole. He suggested that Levanevskiy introduce himself to Bolkhovitinov and have a look at the DB-A. Bolkhovitinov was immediately called from Kazan and instructed to show Levanevskiy the airplane.
After being introduced to Levanevskiy, Bolkhovitinov gathered his few remaining compatriots at Factory No. 22, including me. He was very against the idea of using the only DB-A that had undergone flight tests for a transpolar flight. When I told him about the modifications we had made on the TB-3 for the arctic version and estimated that it would take at least two months, his mood darkened. He said, “In any event, we will not get the airplane back. And how long will it be before we have another one?” Bolkhovitinov also considered Tupolev’s attitude toward the use of the DB-A for a transpolar flight. Tupolev did not support the idea of the DB-A, period (literally transferred, surely Chertok dictated "period" into a recording device and the secretary wrote the word instead of a dot, RT[ ]).
Moreover, after the incident at the meeting with Stalin, Tupolev had a very negative attitude toward Levanevskiy. At that time Tupolev was not only a chief designer, but was also the acting deputy chief of the Main Directorate of Aviation Industry within the People’s Commissariat of Heavy Industry. Preparation for the proposed flight was impossible without the aviation industry’s assistance. Bolkhovitinov had every reason not to agree, but word had it that secret pressure from the top came from Stalin himself.
In early June, the DB-A developers met for the first time with Levanevskiy at the factory airfield. At that time I was still unaware of Levanevskiy’s difficult military biography. Sporting stylish clothes, with a thoughtful and intent gaze, he gave the impression of a well-bred aristocrat. During preparation for takeoff, he was very reserved and taciturn. Obviously Bolkhovitinov’s stance pained him.
As the aircraft was being fueled and prepared, Bolkhovitinov, tightly buttoned into the military uniform of a brigade commander (in modern terms, that corresponds to major general), was somber, and slowly meandered through the sweetscented grass of the airfield, lost in thoughts.
Picture #5: Here we see Bolkovitinov to the left in his uniform and Levanevskiy to the right in his really not very proletarian suit.
Picture #6: Bolkhovitinov and crew members.
The demonstration flight was assigned to Kastanayev. He emerged from the flight mechanics’ hut along with Godovikov. Serious and unsmiling, both men approached Bolkhovitinov, briefly discussed something, and then climbed into the aircraft. After a short takeoff run, Kastanayev lifted off, gained altitude, and then dove to gain speed toward the village of Mnevniki and made a very steep, banking turn over the airfield. After deafening us with the roar of the four boosted engines, he once again climbed steeply upward. The aircraft was empty and fueled only for a demonstration. It was easy for Kastanayev to execute showy maneuvers that were not typical for a heavy bomber.
Observing the flight, Levanevskiy was transformed.We never expected such a wild reaction from our taciturn guest. The airplane had not yet landed, and Levanevskiy was beaming, radiating delight, and literally throwing himself at Bolkhovitinov. “You’ve got to, got to give me this plane! We’ve got to show this to the Americans! They’ve never even dreamed of such a plane!” I was unable to hear what else was said between Levanevskiy and Bolkhovitinov.
We know that the following day Levanevskiy was at the Kremlin. Next, they also summoned Bolkhovitinov. A day later in Tarasevich’s office, Bolkhovitinov gathered a team of designers and informed them that the government had approved Levanevskiy’s request and was permitting him to fly the Moscow–North Pole–Alaska route. We were subsequently called up and mobilized to adapt the DB-A for a transpolar flight.We were given one-and-a-half months for the entire work.
Bolkhovitinov and the design unit deputy, Saburov, relocated to the factory. A rush job was begun to issue the drawings transforming the armed bomber into a peaceful transport aircraft that would deliver gifts via the shortest route over the Pole: caviar for President Franklin Roosevelt and expensive furs from the Russian North for his wife Eleanor.
The moniker “patron” had already stuck to Bolkhovitinov. Word had it that the first person to call him that behind his back was Isayev.“Our patron has started to change his tune,” said military engineer Frolov, who was flight test lead. “He has already sat down with me to consider how it would look if they convert Annushka into a cargo/passenger plane.” But it would be a long time before a cargo/passenger version for transpolar routes appeared on the scene. Based on preliminary calculations, if all of the weaponry was removed, then the weight of the empty aircraft would be 16 tons. In order to ensure a range of at least 8,000 kilometers, the aircraft would have to hold 16.5 tons of gasoline and 900 kilograms of oil.The crew, along with equipment and food supplies, would add up to 1.5 tons plus a minimum of miscellaneous baggage—in total, we had already exceeded 35 tons for the takeoff weight.
Given the 840 horsepower for each M-34FRN engine at an altitude of 4,000 meters, this was the takeoff weight limit. But the first step is the hardest. My group in the so-called “ground crew”was in the most difficult situation. In order to issue the electrical diagrams and installation drawings for the new equipment, we needed the initial data from the other factories involved. They still did not know anything about the decision that had been made. During the very first days, authorized representatives from Glavaviaprom and the Air Force were detailed to us on temporary duty. I only had to mention my difficulties in passing before everything I needed started to appear. The chief developers of all the factories received instructions to consider our jobs top priority.
Together with Chizhikov and the engineers of the Gorky and Moscow radio factories,we designed instruments and radio equipment.The new powerful Omega radio station was installed in the tail section in the specially insulated radio operator’s cockpit. The Omega could operate on short and long waves in telegraph and telephone mode. In the navigator’s cockpit, the sights, bomb release devices, machine gun, and forward gunner were removed. They decided to place the flight radio operator there along with the navigator. In the navigator’s cockpit we installed a second, lighter radio station without the long wave range, and we equipped the radio operator’s seat.
The crew consisted of Levanevskiy and a specially created flight staff. It was clear who the pilots would be: Levanevskiy and Kastanayev. Two flight mechanics were needed for the four engines, which could be accessed through the thick wings. The first flight mechanic was Grigoriy Pobezhimov, who had traveled with Levanevskiy to the United States to procure airplanes. Pobezhimov was an experienced polar flight mechanic, but he was not familiar with the DB-A and had no experience with M-34FRN engines. Kastanayev recommended Godovikov as a candidate. He told Bolkhovitinov that he was the only man among the factory workers who knew that airplane inside and out. He had a wonderful feel for the engines, could instantly figure out the quirky lubrication systems and fuel lines, and if necessary would crawl into the most inaccessible place.
Nikolay Nikolayevich Godovikov did not want to fly. He aspired neither to fame nor to new awards. In his forty-four years, he had already received the Order of Lenin and the Order of the Red Star. What is more, he had already been to the United States with Vladimir Gorbunov in 1934. But the main thing was that he loved his family, which included seven children. But Godovikov could not refuse. He understood that he would be the only one in the crew who knew all of the aircraft’s mechanisms and was capable of performing the duties not only of flight mechanic, but also of flight engineer. He was actively engaged in the modification process and helped us redesign the flight mechanics’ instrument panels and install fuel gauges. He also spent a great deal of time mastering a new gadget: electric gas analyzers. These instruments made it possible to monitor the makeup of the
exhaust gases in order to select the most efficient operating mode.
Crew navigator Viktor Levchenko rendered a great deal of assistance in the installation of the navigation equipment.The design of the astrodome for the solar heading indicator required the most attention. Next, we mastered the American Fairchild radio compass.The radio compass indicators had leads to the navigator, pilot, and copilot workstations. The last person to join the crew was Leonid Lvovich Kerber. Due to his particularly nonproletarian origins—he was the son of a (surely Tsarist, RT) Russian Navy vice-admiral—Kerber had been unable to enter an institute in order to obtain a higher education in radio or electrical engineering. By the time he had reached thirty-four years of age, this talented self-taught individual had gone through on-the-job training as a military telephone operator, a Central Airfield communications radio operator, and an aircraft special equipment team leader at the Tupolev KB.
After twenty days and nights of work at the factory, the aircraft, painted unusually with a dark-blue fuselage and red wings,was ferried to the Shchelkovo airfield of the Air Force NII and assigned the polar aircraft number N-209.This number was to enter the history of Arctic exploration forever. The entire “ground crew” headed by Bolkhovitinov—flight planners, engine mechanics, designers, and even drafters—were housed in the NII service buildings, which had been converted into a design bureau and dormitory with full room and board.
Picture #4: DB-A after conversion for transpolar flights.
If you happen to see an "H", this is the cyrillic "N", of course.
Levanevskiy was urgently summoned to Sevastopol for the acceptance tests of three hydroplanes arriving from the United States. Kastanayev performed the first flights of N-209 in Shchelkovo without him. The propeller-engine units gave Frolov, the lead engineer for the aircraft’s general flight tests, the most trouble—the exhaust manifold pipes caught on fire, the fuel consumption exceeded the design value, and the gas analyzers indicated unintelligible readings. During all the ground and flight tests, the engines had to be used sparingly because of their limited service life, which amounted to 100 total hours. Given a planned flight duration of 35 hours, there was very little time left over for control flights and ground adjustments.
The flight plan group also had to provide for reserves based upon meteorologists’ predictions of the most unfavorable conditions that could occur. But who could say what the most unfavorable conditions would be in August beyond the Pole? As of yet there were no statistics.The meteorologists’ recommendations boiled down to one thing: the closer you are to autumn, the worse the weather—fly as early as possible.
After two weeks of work on breaking in the aircraft, and control flights from the Shchelkovo airfield, our first incident occurred. Kerber did not show up at the usual time. Twenty-four hours later they introduced us to the new crewmember who would be taking his place, radio operator Nikolay Galkovskiy. Time had already taught us not to ask questions concerning such incidents.
Galkovskiy worked in the Air Force NII. He was the flagship radio operator in the holiday air parades in Moscow and had participated in flights throughout Europe. In September he was to begin his studies at the N. E. Zhukovskiy Air Force Academy.
Godovikov, Frolov, electrical system foreman Mayorov, and I were very upset. In the time remaining, it was going to be difficult for a new crew member to master the aircraft. Kerber had managed to make some alterations based on his own experience.
The last nonstop control flight over the route Moscow-Melitopol-Moscow, a distance of more than 2,000 kilometers, was scheduled for 28 July. Galkovskiy, having a total of three days experience with the N-209, asked me to participate in the flight to perform joint checks on all the radio equipment. I was therefore included in the crew of this control flight. Kastanayev occupied the commanding pilot’s seat on the left side for the entire route. Levanevskiy, sporting a pressed suit, snow-white shirt and bright necktie, smiling and joyful, strolled around the aircraft observing the crew members in action.
From time to time he would sit down in the co-pilot’s seat and see what it was like to steer the plane. During the entire flight, Godovikov and Pobezhimov went from engine to engine scrutinizing their operation. I spent most of the flight in the tail section in the radio operator’s cockpit checking all the station operating modes while Galkovskiy worked in the navigator’s cockpit with Levchenko the entire trip. We had good weather at an altitude of 3,000 meters as far as Melitopol. When we turned around to head home, Godovikov laid out dinner, which consisted primarily of caviar and chocolate (combination result is [ :wacko: ], RT[ :D ]). I was a little greedy and was punished. An oncoming front of thunderstorms caused strong turbulence and forced us to climb to an altitude of over 5,000 meters. Levanevskiy, having noticed that I was clearly not feeling well, made me put on my oxygen mask. Meanwhile, in spite of the cold, he continued to saunter around in his elegant suit.
The N-209 was scheduled to take off on 12 August. On the eve of departure, in order to facilitate takeoff, the aircraft was towed onto the concrete slope from which all aircraft heavily loaded with fuel for long-range trips started. On the morning of 12 August, the fueling process and the bustle of the last hours of preparation began. Godovikov, Pobezhimov, and Galkovskiy were almost constantly in the airplane. Together with the testing leader, they were checking the last packs of gear, the emergency supply of food, warm clothes, firearms, and the lifeboat. Frolov let it slip that the day before, Levanevskiy had demanded that all manner of baggage and supplies be thrown out so that the plane could be filled with additional fuel. They rolled the aircraft onto the dynamometer scales. The takeoff weight exceeded the permissible limit of 35 metric tons.
Picture #7: N-209 and crew (from second left to right): Kastanayev, Levanevskiy, Pobezhimov, Godovikov, Levchenko (the leftmost one should be Galkovskiy, don't know why Chertok doesn't recognize him any more, RT).
By the middle of the day, reporters, numerous cameramen, and well-wishers had arrived. A crowd of reporters surrounded Levanevskiy. Bolkhovitinov, with dark circles under his eyes from sleepless nights, was discussing something with Kastanayev and brushed aside the reporters. The anxious Godovikov argued with a group of factory engine mechanics and designers. I headed over to the airplane on the slope, intending to hand over to Godovikov or Galkovskiy the flashlights that had been tossed out along with other, supposedly unnecessary, baggage. A tall serviceman was strolling near the airplane. He held a little boy about nine years old by the hand and, pointing to the airplane, explained something to him. As I drew closer and saw the four diamond-shaped insignias on his gorget patches, I finally realized that it was Alksnis. The meticulous reporters sensed something, but none of them approached and annoyed the RKKA Air Force Commander-in-Chief with questions.
Bolkhovitinov came to an agreement with the pilots that Kastanayev would take off and fly the aircraft for the first several hours. The concrete strip was cleared. Everyone dispersed from the aircraft. One after another the propellers began reluctantly to spin. Finally all four were working. Red Army soldiers ran up to the wheels and pulled out the chocks. The engines began to roar and the airplane rolled down the slope. It ran down the runway for an unbearably long time. It seemed like it had reached the forest before it tore away from the concrete. Kastanayev managed to take off at the very end of the runway. It was 6:15 p.m. Then someone who had timed it announced that the takeoff run lasted 37 seconds. The N-209 slowly rose up over the forest leaving behind a smoke trail from the far right engine.
Picture #9: N-209 takes off.
After such constant stress we didn’t know where to go or what to do with ourselves now. No one left the field. After a while Alksnis received the first radiogram. He read it aloud:
Ya—RL.13 19:40. Crossed Mother Volga, cruising speed 205 kilometers. Altitude 820 meters. I hear Moscow well on wavelength 32.8. All OK. Crew feels fine.
“Good radiogram,” said Alksnis. He took his son, who had been clinging to him, by the hand, and giving no further instructions, left the airfield. From Shchelkovo, the primary N-209 “ground crew” staff went to the Air Force communications center located at the Central Airfield. Here, Nikolay Shelimov, Air Force Deputy Chief of Communications, was responsible for radio communications
with the N-209. Thirty sleepless hours still lay ahead of us before Levanevskiy’s airplane was to land in Alaska. A festive reception awaited him in Fairbanks.
We tried not to bother the communications operators. In the middle of the following day, they showed Bolkhovitinov a radiogram signed by Levchenko and Galkovskiy reporting the following:
Latitude 87° 55′. Longitude 58°. Flying over clouds, crossing fronts. Altitude 6,000. We have head winds. All OK. Hardware operating excellently. Crew feels fine. 12:32.
Bolkhovitinov woke up the dozing Tayts, and together they got out their slide rules and began to calculate how much fuel would be used if the entire route were flown at an altitude of 6,000 meters with a headwind. At 1:40 p.m. on 13 August, the entire crew signed the last radiogram, the complete text of which was received in Moscow:
We are flying over the Pole. Going has been difficult. Constant heavy cloud cover since the middle of the Barents Sea. Altitude 6,000 meters, temperature -35 °C. Cockpit windows covered with frost. Strong head wind. Report weather on other side of Pole. All OK.
When I heard that the temperature was -35 °C, I shivered and began to consult with my comrades about the possibility of instruments failing and storage batteries cooling down. Chizhikov and Alshvang confirmed my apprehensions. In their opinion, ice plugs could form in the tubes of the pressure gauges, altimeters, speedometers, and fuel gauges. Our conversations were interrupted by a new radiogram, which the duty officer placed in front of Bolkhovitinov.
RL. 14:32. Far right engine failed due to lubrication system malfunction. Flying on three engines. Altitude 4,600 with solid cloud cover.
This was radiogram number nineteen. “Who signed?” asked Bolkhovitinov. “Galkovskiy,” answered the communicator. Someone requested that this be clarified, to inquire—but that no longer made sense. There was nothing we could do to help, except recommend that they go to a lower altitude. An altitude of 4,600 meters for three engines was the limit, provided the aircraft did not ice over. But icing was inevitable when the aircraft’s body, cooled to -35 °C, hit the moisture-saturated clouds. They needed to go as low as possible and thaw out. Bolkhovitinov agreed to a descent to 2,000 meters. At that altitude, according to calculations, the lightened aircraft could hold out even on two engines. That advice was sent to Galkovskiy.
Whether he received our radiogram still remains a mystery. Communications with the aircraft were broken off. Yakutsk, Cape Shmidt, and Alaska reported the reception on RL wave of broken, indecipherable messages. It was difficult to assess their authenticity.
Several hours later, a certain emptiness fell upon Bolkhovitinov and all of us. Even flight headquarters no longer needed us. It was up to the government commission and headquarters to organize the search and rescue of the crew, if they were still alive.We went our separate ways on the morning of 14 August. By that time, even all of the unrealistic time limits for flying to Alaska had run out.
The chaotic days of organizing the search for the N-209 crew had begun. On 15 August, all the central Soviet newspapers published the decision of the government commission on the deployment of search missions:
"As reported yesterday, the flight of Hero of the Soviet Union comrade
S.A. Levanevskiy on the aircraft “USSR N-209” took place under very difficult
atmospheric conditions. Due to high-altitude unbroken cloud cover, the
aircraft had to fly at a very high altitude—as high as 6,000 meters. At 2:32
PM one of its engines failed and the aircraft had to descend to an altitude of
4,600 meters. Since that time no complete radiograms have been received
from the aircraft. From the telegram excerpts we have received, it appears
that the aircraft continued its course for some time. One can surmise that,
forced to fly in the clouds, the aircraft might have been subjected to icing,
which might have led to a forced landing on the ice.The ice conditions in
the polar region and beyond it are comparatively favorable for such a landing.
All polar radio stations are listening continuously on the aircraft’s wavelength.
Several times radio stations have heard activity on the wavelength of
comrade Levanevskiy’s aircraft, but due to the weak signal they have been
unable to receive anything authentic.
The N-209 crew has been provided with food stores for one-and-a-half
months, as well as tents, sleeping bags, warm clothing, and firearms.
Having discussed the situation, the government commission has undertaken
a series of measures to render immediate aid. This aid has been
organized in two areas: in the Eastern and Western sectors of the Arctic.The
following measures are being taken in the Eastern sector from the
1. The icebreaker Krasin, located at the shore of the Chukchi Sea, has
been ordered to head immediately for Cape Shmidt, where the
Glavsevmorput base is located, to take on board three aircraft with crews
and fuel, and head to the area of Point Barrow in Alaska. From there, it
is to go as far north as the ice will allow, where it will serve as a base.
2. The steamship Mikoyan, located in the Bering Sea, has been ordered to
head for the Krasin with a full cargo of coal.
3. The two-engine hydroplane USSR N-2 piloted by Zudkov, located in
Nogayevo Bay, has been ordered to head immediately for Uelen and
from there to the site of the Krasin.
In the Western sector, using the air base on Rudolph Island and Papanin’s
“North Pole” station, the following instructions have been given:
1. Prepare for the departure of the three ANT-6 aircraft that had returned
to Moscow from the Pole. These aircraft, under the command of
Heroes of the Soviet Union comrades Vodopyanov, Molokov, and
Alekseyev, are heading for Rudolph Island, and from there to the North
2. Papanin’s polar station, located on the zero meridian at a latitude of 87°
20′, will be converted into an air base—the point of origination for
flights. Fuel will be transported from Rudolph Island on the ANT-6
aircraft. Comrade Papanin responded to an inquiry by the commission,
stating that his field is completely intact and aircraft landings are possible.
3. Hero of the Soviet Union comrade Golovin and pilot Gratsianskiy were
given orders to fly the two-engine USSR N-206 and USSR N-207 to
Dickson Island and to be on call to fly to the North, to either Western
sector or the Eastern sector of the Arctic, depending on the need.
The entire network of radio and weather stations is continuing operation."
Picture #10: Planned and probable emergency route of the N-209.
We prepared the three TB-3s that had already been to the Pole. I participated in their test flight. The last airplane was ferried to the Central Airfield on the day of the celebration of International Youth Day. Alekseyev piloted the plane.We flew low over Petrovskiy Park and Tverskaya Street filled with those commemorating the event, then turned back and landed at Khodynka. Shevelev commanded these three heavy airplanes. It was a month before they reached Rudolph Island. From there, after another three weeks Vodopyanov made several fruitless flights to the center of the Arctic.
The disappearance of the N-209 was a tragedy that was widely reported in the world press. Dozens of proposals continued to pour in to the authorities about how best to conduct the search. Enthusiasts and Arctic researchers from the United States and Canada participated actively in the searches for Levanevskiy and his crew. Through its embassy in the United States, the Soviet government financed the procurement of airplanes and expenditures for a search conducted from Alaska. American newspapers wrote that the scope of the measures taken to rescue the N-209 crew in terms of their dramatic nature and grand scale surpassed all historic precedent.
In early 1938, searches for the N-209 were renewed from Alaska. In the spring, Moshkovskiy, flying our TB-3, examined the icy expanses west of Franz Joseph Land and between that archipelago and the North Pole. what more could have been done in those times? Streets, ships, schools, and technical institutes were named in honor of Levanevskiy, Kastanayev, and Godovikov. To this day, the Arctic has not given up its secret. Journalists, historians, and mere enthusiasts have conducted enterprising research into the possible causes and sites of the loss of N-209.
In 1987, the management of the Moscow House of Scientists proposed that I chair a conference devoted to the fiftieth anniversary of the flight. The meeting proved to be very impressive. Presenting their own scenarios were pilot Nyukhtikov, who tested the DB-A; polar pilot Mazuruk; journalist Yuriy Salnikov, who had gathered comprehensive materials concerning the flight; and aviation engineer Yakubovich, who recalculated the aircraft parameters under conditions of icing. Yakubovich calculated the N-209’s flight range limit after the failure of the far right engine. The detailed calculations showed that given an emergency-free flight, it was possible on three engines to reach the nearest shore of Alaska. New hypotheses based on stories formerly told by Alaskan Eskimos, who allegedly heard the noise of an aircraft, concurred with this. Salnikov, while in the United States,even took a trip to Alaska.
No traces of the aircraft have ever been found on the shore and neighboring islands. If one assumes that the flight continued with slight deviations from the shortest route to dry land before the fuel ran out, then the aircraft sank in the coastal waters.
I am still convinced that the scenario we discussed a week after takeoff is the most plausible. Having lost altitude, the aircraft quickly iced over. The icy coating could have weighed several tons. The aircraft’s aerodynamics changed. The ice could have jammed the rudder and the aircraft could have become uncontrollable. Instead of a smooth descent, the aircraft began to fall rapidly.
It is possible that incredible efforts at the very surface managed to correct the aircraft. During an attempt to land on wheels on the pack ice the aircraft was damaged, and Galkovskiy was injured or killed. Without a radio operator, they were unable to restore communications using the radio station in the tail section, even if someone in the crew had survived. If the aircraft had heavily iced over, it might have broken up while still in the air.
I support the scenario that the catastrophe took place one to two hours after the last radiogram. Judging by the time, this happened at a distance of 500 to 1,000 kilometers south of the Pole in the American sector of the Arctic. In the spring of 1938, the sea currents and the direction of the ice drift were already well known. One could assert with great probability that if the aircraft did not sink when it crashed, then it was carried along with the ice toward Greenland and from there to the Atlantic Ocean. The unexpectedly rapid drift of the ice floe on which the polar station North Pole-1 was located confirmed this hypothesis. In February 1938, the four members of the Papanin expedition might have perished off the shores of Greenland if rescue ships had not managed to reach them in time. A detailed description of the searches for Levanevskiy during the period from 13 August 1937 until the end of 1938 is contained in Yu. P. Salnikov’s book "A Life Devoted to the Arctic."
In the Soviet press and radio broadcasts of 1937–38, the enthusiastic accounts of heroic feats by our pilots and polar explorers shared the spotlight with reports of uncovering hidden Trotskyites and other “enemies of the People.” During those years the majority of my acquaintances and I had no idea of the actual scale of the arrests. After the trial and execution of the officers headed by Tukhachevskiy, the names of other “enemies of the People” were not officially reported. In October 1937, Tupolev, along with many of his closest collaborators, was arrested. In November 1937, Air Force Commander Alksnis, who had just been decorated and treated with much favor by Stalin, suddenly disappeared.
August 1937 has remained in my memory as the month of the tragic loss of the N-209. Among the crew, the man I was most fond of was Godovikov. But over the month of the continuous joint preparation at the hot airfield, others had also become my good friends. The feat of Levanevskiy and his crew has remained forever in the history of Arctic flights.
End of Chertok's article.
As I said before, I had made a translation from another source, where engineer Yakubovskiy, surely the same person as Chertok mentioned above, gives his own story of the DB-A. But it is not the least bit comparable to what Chertok wrote, so there was no wonder what to choose. Contrary to Chertok, Yakobovski gives a little sight on the further development of the DB-A, that didn't end with the disappearnce of the N-209.
But the work on the long-range bomber of V. F. Bolkhovitinov continued.
The second version of the machine DB-А was modernized taking into account given, obtained in the process flight tests. Successfully went the performing of trial run from ten machines, and toward the end of 1938 five of them completed an overflight along the route Kazan - Sverdlovsk - Omsk - Ulan-Ude - Khabarovsk, and more lately were used for the delivery of mails and took cargo to the Far East regions.
End of Yakubovskiy's comment. Original source http://mkmagazin.alm...u/avia/db_a.htm
Further additions about planned vesions from contributor BigPanzer, in discussion on http://forum.axishis...1a2a285c04fa640:
New bomber was produced in small amount in 1938-1939 (12 were built from 16 ordered, air factory N 22 - 3 copies, air factory N 124 - the rest). It was planned to produce additional improved series of DB-2A during WWII (that idea was rejected).
Picture #11: Serial verion DB-2A.
In 1936 the experimental BDD was built (improved DB-A with 1240 hp engines M-34FRN and airtight cabins) and in 1939 the new modification of DB-2A was developed ("heavy cruiser" TK-1 with 3x20mm + 5x7.62mm + 8 RS missiles).
I speculate that the small series of DB-As was still in use as transport aircraft at least during the first phase of WWII, serving on the Far East route mentioned above, and then were scrapped. But the history of the DB-A is not completely over to the present day. As far as comrade BigPanzer knows, new expeditions are planned to finally find the N-209.
Technical specifications are available and will be posted on special request.
airwar.ru: #1, #3, #8, #10.
Chertok's memories: #2, #5, #7
Ton Meynders from airwarforum.com: #4
BigPanzer, giving hotlinks: #6, #9.
I would like to close with two pictures originating from the website where you also find Yakubovskiy's article. It is said they are hand-colourized photographs.
#12: Early DB-A.
#13: N-209. Colourization as described by Chertok.
(end of reconstruction 10/23/2012)
Edited by Romantic Technofreak, 07 August 2013 - 09:26 AM.