четверг, 12 ноября 2009 г.

MIKHAIL VODOPYANOV


The 1930s produced a constellation of Soviet pilots, well-known both in and outside this country. Valery Chkalov, Georgy Baidukov, Mikhail Gromov and, of course, the famed Polar aviator and Hero of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Vodopyanov. This flyer went down in the history of Polar exploration.

"Kissed by God" — that's how people called Mikhail and with a good reason too because he was an intelligent, persevering and daring man. He was born in 1899 to a family of poor peasants in Central Russia. Before taking to the skies, he worked as a water carrier, loader, driver and as a mechanic.

The first time he saw a plane was in 1917. "One day my Dad and I were fixing our shed's roof,” Mikhail reminisced later. "Suddenly he said: "Look, there's a plane flying up there!" I craned my neck so hard that I nearly went tumbling down. "You see people sitting on the wings?!" I yelled, "There, right on the wings!"

I later found out that those were engines, not people, two on each side. The plane was the world's biggest, four-engine leviathan called Ilya Muromets. For me it was love from first sight and, soon after I was lucky enough to sign up with the local airplane squadron. It was the beginning of a new life…”

Starting off ferrying mail and newspaper matrices, Vodopyanov eventually became first-class pilot assigned all kinds of challenging missions. In 1929, he blazed a new air trail to Sakhalin island and, five years later, he was in the Arctic rescuing the crew of the ice-imprisoned Soviet icebreaker Chelyuskin. Landing on an ice floe was a nearly impossible mission, but risking his neck was something Mikhail Vodopyanov never missed a chance to do. "All you have to do to fall ill with the wonderful "Northern disease" he later wrote, "is to fly there at least once and you'll be hooked forever. Once you've been up there, where a plane is a rare and very welcome guest, you'll never want to get back to the quiet comfort of flying in European Russia where you don't need to fight the elements and where there are airfields everywhere. It's so boring to fly here after you've logged hundreds of miles flying in the very back of beyond where man has never ventured to tread…" Flying over the northern taiga and rocky hills, Vodopyanov was in seventh heaven savoring every single moment of fighting the elements… It was the start of a lifelong love affair with the North…

After spending some time roaming the northern skies Vodopyanov felt himself experienced enough to venture to the North Pole - the world's most enigmatic place and one explorers everywhere dreamed of some day getting settling down to the routine paperwork of writing detailed reports to his superiors, however, Vodopyanov wrote a novel, entitled “A Pilot's Dream” and described the would-be expedition. The book was a success and even interested the Soviet leader Josef Stalin who eventually authorized the mission.

Ferrying the adventures to the Pole was a logistical nightmare. To do this, Vodopyanov became the first man in aviation history to fly across the Barents Sea, reach Franz Josef Land and move on to the North Pole. On May 21, 1937, Mikhail Vodopyanov steered his ANT-6 plane with 13 passengers on board, up from Rudolf Island and headed to the North Pole. During that most difficult leg of the northward trip, the engine started leaking antifreeze. The mechanics quickly cut the wing open and, locating the fracture somehow managed to patch it up. It really was a flight to remember!


From that day on, information, including weather forecasts, started coming in from the North Pole and was eventually used by Soviet air crews during transcontinental flights. Vodopyanov’s flight became a stepping stone for Valery Chkalov's famous trans-Polar hop-over to the United States.

Besides being an excellent airman, Vodopyanov was also a writer penning a number of interesting books about aviation, instilling in many young people deep love for the skies.

Source:The Voice of Russia

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