January 01, 1999

The Russian Lindbergh

On December 15, 1938, sixty years ago, the world of aviation lost one its most famous test pilots and researchers – Valery Chkalov. His name evokes the worldwide boom in aviation development in the 1930s. For Chkalov was the first to make a non-stop transpolar flight from Soviet Russia to the US.

Valery Chkalov was born in 1904 in the village of Vasilyovo, Nizhny Novgorod region (the village is now named after him – Chkalovsk). His father worked as a boiler repairman for steamers sailing down the Volga. In 1919, when civil war was raging in Russia, the 15-year old Chkalov went to work at an aircraft plant as an aircraft assembler. This allowed him to study in depth the technical characteristics of different types of aircraft. In 1921, the capable and promising Chkalov was sent to the Theoretical School of Aviation in Moscow. He graduated two years later, and continued his studies in the aviation schools of Borisoglebsk and Yegorievsk, then at the Higher Pilot School in Moscow.

In 1927, Chkalov married Olga Orekhova, a secondary school teacher. One year later, they had a son, Igor. But there was little time for family life. In 1930, Chkalov became a test-pilot, first at the Scientific Research Institute of Aviation, then at an aviation plant. There he developed a reputation as a risk-taker (when he was a trainee, he got in trouble with his superiors for flying a plane under a bridge spanning Leningrad’s Neva River), but one who knew the nuts and bolts of flying. 

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