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Where We Live: Chkalov and the Pearson Air Field

The pilot's accomplishment is still celebrated in Russia and America

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) -- The Russians are in the news a lot lately, but in Vancouver, Russia made world headlines when it was still part of the Soviet Union.

One of the most famous flights in aviation history landed at Pearson Air Field and the impact of that flight is still felt where we live.

You may have wondered who Chkalov was -- his name is on a major street in Vancouver, his image is on a giant mural downtown and a there a monument to him outside Pearson Air Field -- where Valeriy Chkalov's history flight ended.

"The world was following this flight, and it made news worldwide, and it put Vancouver on the map on the world stage in 1937," Bob Cromwell with the Pearson Air Museum said.

Chkalov was Russia's most famous test pilot and a national hero. In 1937, he and 2 other pilots did something that had never been done before. They flew over the North Pole from Russia to the United States -- the first ever transpolar flight -- spending a record 63 straight hours in the air.

Chkalov was actually headed to San Francisco, but realized they would run out of fuel and decided to fly to Portland. A huge crowd following the flight on the radio packed into Swan Island, where the airport was. The pilot feared his massive plane would be damaged by souvenir seekers, like Linberg's "Spirit of St. Louis" was in Paris in 1927.

"So without communicating with anybody, they diverted from Swan Island and came in for a landing here at Pearson Field," Cromwell said.

General George Marshall, one of America's greatest statesmen, greeted them. Marshall was commander of the Vancouver military barracks at the time. Chkalov's polar flight charged commercial aviation and military strategy paving the way for long-range bombers.

"It actually is shorter to go up and around another than point to point," Cromwell said.

The Chkalov monument in Vancouver, paid for by Russians and Americans, was unveiled in 1975 to commemorate the accomplishment still celebrate in both nations. Russia also brings a delegation to Vancouver every year to celebrate at the monument.

Chkalov's home town in Russia was also named after him and there are monuments to him all over Russia.


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