On September 24, 1938, Soviet pilots Valentina Grizodubova, Polina Osipenko and Marina Raskova made a non-stop flight from Moscow to the Far East. Having covered more than 6 thousand km in 26 hours and 29 minutes, they set a women's world record for flight range.
Their achievement was preceded by a similar flight of the male crew consisting of pilot Vladimir Kokkinaki and navigator Alexander Bryandinsky. On the TsKB-30 "Moscow" aircraft, they set a speed record, covering more than 7 thousand km from Moscow to Spassk-Dalny in Primorye in 24 hours 36 minutes.
The flight to the Far East was to be carried out by the crew of Valentina Grizodubova on another aircraft - ANT-37bis "Rodina". This machine was a modification of a twin-engine bomber developed by the Tupolev Design Bureau. The Tupolev aircraft was not put into service, however, because of its ability to make long-distance flights, it was decided to modify it for the flight of the female crew.
- Soviet pilots Vladimir Kokkinaki and Alexander Bryandinsky after completing the flight on the twin-engine aircraft TsKB-30 "Moscow" on the non-stop route Moscow - the Far East with a length of 7580 km. June 27-28, 1938 / Aircraft for long-distance flights TsKB-30 "Moscow" designed by Sergei Ilyushin
- RIA Novosti
The re-equipment was carried out under the guidance of designer Pavel Sukhoi. All military equipment was dismantled on the plane, and additional glazing was added to the nose. Two fuel tanks for 360 and 240 kg were placed in the fuselage, and two more tanks - with fuel for 150 kg each - were installed in the central part of the wing (center section).
In addition, various new equipment was installed on the aircraft, including the RRE radio station, SPU-3 aircraft intercoms, pneumatic mail and the Fairchild radio compass. Due to the increase in take-off weight, the landing gear was equipped with reinforced wheels. The aircraft also received specially assembled M-86 engines with a capacity of 950 hp each and new VISH-3 propellers.
In the event of an emergency landing on board the ANT-37bis, there was an emergency supply of food, a three-barreled hunting rifle with a supply of ammunition and a flare gun. In addition, each pilot had a personal weapon with her.
The crew commander was appointed 27-year-old Valentina Grizodubova, who by that time already had considerable experience - 6 thousand flight hours. The co-pilot was 30-year-old Polina Osipenko, who by 1938 had set five women's international aviation records. The duties of the navigator were performed by 26-year-old NKVD officer Marina Raskova.
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"We kept the course purely intuitively"
The plane took to the sky from the sloping hill of the Shchelkovo airfield of the Air Force Research Institute at 08:16 on September 24, 1938.
According to analysts, in those years, flying such a long distance was associated with significant loads on the human body.
"To achieve record figures, the maximum fuel supply was taken on board. In addition, various things were needed in case of an emergency landing. There were no more opportunities left to ensure comfort. In addition, the flight was accompanied by a high level of noise, high vibration and crampedness. At the same time, it was constantly necessary to focus on the readings of the devices and be under pressure from such a factor as the risk of equipment failure, "said Oleg Panteleev, executive director of the AviaPort industry agency, in an interview with RT.
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According to him, "extremely high requirements were imposed on the pilots in terms of performance in stressful conditions."
In turn, retired military expert Colonel Anatoly Matviychuk noted that the girls during the flight could also suffer from low temperatures.
"The flight was high, which means that the air in the cockpit was rarefied, and the temperature was below zero. It should be noted and the physical constraint of the body during the entire time - numb arms and legs. Of course, this created serious discomfort, "the specialist explained in an interview with RT.
Almost immediately, the crew had to face serious difficulties. Already at the initial stage of the flight, the onboard radio equipment failed. Then, due to the negligence of the navigator, the flight maps were lost: when icing began, Raskova opened the window to remove frost from the windows, and the documents were blown overboard.
"So our plane became not only deaf, but also blind. Therefore, Polina and I maintained the course purely intuitively. Most of all, I was afraid to dodge to the right and cross the state border. Then nothing would have saved us," Grizodubova later said.
In addition, the crew was hampered by bad weather conditions: after about 150 km of flight, the car entered the clouds - after that, the pilots did not see the ground until the landing. And on the section of the road between Kazan and Sverdlovsk (Yekaterinburg), icing and severe chatter began. The crew decided to raise the plane to an altitude of 7500 m, where the women had to connect to oxygen equipment. To determine the location of the aircraft in such difficult conditions, navigator Raskova had to look at the stars.
The clouds dissipated only at the very end of the flight, when the plane flew to the Sea of Okhotsk. Having established the location, Grizodubova made a U-turn to begin searching for a landing site. Initially, she intended to land in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, but it soon became clear that the fuel would only last for 30 minutes of flight, so the crew had to resort to an emergency landing without releasing the landing gear.
But landing without landing gear posed a serious danger to Raskova. The fact is that the navigator's cockpit was located at the bottom of the nose of the aircraft, where there was the best visibility when flying at altitude. But with a hard landing, this place could suffer greatly when hitting the ground. The design of the aircraft did not allow Raskova to move deep into the car, so Grizodubova ordered the navigator not to wait for landing and jump with a parachute.
Raskova landed in the taiga, and after a while the ANT-37bis safely sat down on the swampy soil. None of the girls were injured. The flight officially ended on September 25 at 10:45 Moscow time.
Ten days in the taiga
Due to the lack of radio communication in Moscow, all this time they did not know anything about the fate of the crew. The search began after the expiration of the estimated flight time. From the air, more than 37 aircraft were looking for traces of the ANT-50bis, and hundreds of foot troops combed the terrain on the ground.
It was possible to find the "Motherland" only on the ninth day of the search - October 4. While the evacuation of the pilots was being prepared, they were dropped hot coffee in thermoses, warm socks, boots, clothes and a map indicating the location of their aircraft.
After landing, Raskova could not correctly determine the landing site of the aircraft and wandered through the forest for ten days. She had only dry rations and a pistol with her. She managed to get out to her own only on October 6.
- Famous pilots, heroes of the Soviet Union (from left to right) Marina Raskova and Polina Osipenko. 1938 year
- RIA Novosti
- © Ivan Shagin
However, the joy of finding all crew members and successfully completing the flight was overshadowed by tragedy. On October 5, not far from the landing site of the ANT-37bis, TB-3 and DS-3 aircraft collided in the sky, flying out to help the pilots. The victims of the disaster were 16 people, including a participant in the previous flight to the Far East, Alexander Bryandinsky.
After the rescue, the pilots first arrived in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, and then reached Moscow by train. Their flight was widely covered in the Soviet press, so at each station the female aviators were greeted by crowds of people.
Later, Valentina Grizodubova, Polina Osipenko and Marina Raskova were the first women in the USSR to be awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Their record was also officially recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).
Experts note that such flights demonstrated to the whole world the scientific and technical potential of the USSR and awakened interest in aviation among Soviet citizens. In addition, they allowed designers to improve technology.
"On these aircraft, engineers worked out solutions and technologies that were later used to create promising models of aircraft, including combat aircraft," explained Oleg Panteleev.
As the experts interviewed by RT emphasized, for the implementation of such flights, the pilots required not only good training, but also great courage.
"Such record-breaking flights were a serious test for the pilots. Not all such flights were pumped safely. Those pilots who successfully completed the flight, without any doubt, deserved the highest marks and government awards, which they were necessarily awarded after returning, "said Oleg Panteleev.
A similar opinion is shared by Anatoly Matviychuk.
"The risks were, in fact, 100%. The engine could fail, the plane could fall into the icing zone - there are a lot of such factors. Grizodubova, Osipenko and Raskova consciously took this risk. If you look through the prism of modernity, then this feat is unprecedented," the expert concluded.