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28 Apr, 2009 05:24

Pioneer pilot of transatlantic flight celebrated 70 years on

Trailblazing soviet test pilot Vladimir Kokkinaki pioneered the shortest flight between Europe and America 70 years ago by flying non-stop from Moscow to New York, but unfortunately had to ditch short of his destination.

Moscow-New York is now a popular and comfortable direct flight over the Atlantic today, but there was a time when it was an unthinkable challenge that only one man decided to take.

Vladimir Kokkinaki was already a Soviet Hero for his first long distance flight across Russia, but he went down in history along with his co-pilot Mikhail Gordienko for trying to surpass his own record and make the first East-West non-stop transatlantic flight.

“My grandfather talked about how dangerous his work was. Between us there was always a feeling that he was someone special,” says Vladimir Kokkinaki’s granddaughter Irina.

Nineteen hours after leaving Moscow the weather ended up turning against them, along with their vital instruments, which forced them to spend hours looking for somewhere safe to land, eventually settling on an island off the coast of Canada.

“Their radio compass failed and they needed to make a crash landing on an Island off of New Brunswick, Canada,” Irina Kokkinaki says.

Miscou Island was their final destination, 700 miles short of New York and 3,900 miles from Moscow. Kikkonaki and his co-pilot never made it to The Big Apple but still covered a distance of 8,000 kilometres in less than 23 hours. Irrespective of not being able to fly the remaining five hours, this pioneer flight was celebrated as a tremendous step in the history of Russian aviation.

“Any flight at that time was difficult, but that distance flying that DB-3 bomber was extremely difficult and there was some fear that they would not make it,” explains aviation expert Nikolay Talikov.

Kokkinaki returned to Moscow a hero, honored with a ticker-tape parade and a letter from President Franklin Roosevelt, along with the ‘Wind Rose Award’ for finding the shortest route from Europe to America. It is still a route used today by commercial airlines like Delta and Aeroflot, who fly daily from Moscow to New York.

Kokkinaki’s granddaughter is a regular in the skies, and she always thinks about the man that to her was a grandfather first and a hero pilot second.