WASHINGTON, June 20 (By Carl Schreck for RIA Novosti) – A team of American aviators and history buffs will take to the air next week in a test flight as part of a project aimed at raising public awareness of the once secret US-Soviet program to supply thousands of American-made warplanes to the Soviet Union during World War II.
Aviation enthusiast Jeff Geer and his team are set to take off from Bellingham, Washington, Monday for a 2,100-mile (3,380-kilometer) trip to Fairbanks, Alaska, in preparation for their planned flight next year along the Alaska-Siberia Air Route, which was used to ferry more than 8,000 warplanes from the United States through Canada and on to the Soviet Union between 1942 and 1945.
“The more we have dug into this thing over the years, the more pieces of the story we’ve found that haven’t been told,” Geer, president of the Bravo 369 Flight Foundation, an aviation history group in Washington State, told RIA Novosti in an interview Thursday.
“This re-creation flight is basically going to bring this to the public’s attention in a much bigger way,” Geer added.
The Alaska-Siberia Air Route, or ALSIB, was used as part of the US Lend-Lease program to deliver the American warplanes to the Soviet Union. It consisted of roads and airports that began in Montana and ran some 6,000 miles (9,656 kilometers) through Canada on to Alaska, where Soviet pilots tested the aircraft before flying them into Siberia to be sent westward for use against German forces.
Monday’s flight is aimed at testing the readiness of the crew and the aircraft, as well as for logistical planning, ahead of the team’s planned flight next year along the route that will ultimately touchdown in the central Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Geer said.
The project is ensuring that this example of cooperation between two wartime allies who spent nearly a half a century after the war as mortal enemies is not lost to history, Geer said.
“Very few people knew about this program then, let alone now,” Geer said. “Our mission is to accurately re-create the flights as well as document the story for future generations. It was one of the greatest logistical efforts of the 20th century – and a major turning point of World War II.”
A telecommunications engineer and pilot who has logged some 1,200 flight hours, Geer said the idea for the project started in 2004, when he began planning a trip from Nome, Alaska, to the town of Provedeniya in the Russia Far East.
Geer decided he’d like to make the flight in an old military plane rather than a general aviation aircraft like a Cessna, and as he began researching the flight, he stumbled upon the history of the program to supply the US warplanes to the Soviet Union during World War II.
People he spoke with had heard of the Lend-Lease program, but few of them knew anything about the warplane deliveries along the ALSIB, Geer said.
“We want to tell the story of this route,” he told RIA Novosti.
A memorial to Soviet-American cooperation under the program was opened in Fairbanks, Alaska, at a 2006 ceremony attended by then Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov (center) in Fairbanks, Alaska, at the 2006 unveiling the monument to Soviet and Russian pilots ferrying warplanes to the Soviet Union. Credit: RIA Novosti
Geer and his team plan to produce a documentary based on the project called “Warplanes to Siberia.” A presentation on the project will be held Saturday at The Museum of Flight in Seattle.
Geer and fellow pilot Alan Anders will man a T-6 Texan aircraft for Monday’s test flight, the same plane they plan to fly to Krasnoyarsk next year. They will be accompanied by a two-person crew flying a Cessna support aircraft.
Geer said he and his team are still working out the logistics, including flight permission from Russian authorities, for next year’s planned trip. But he said he’s already heard from Russians interested in the project.
“We’ve been getting emails every week from interested parties in Russia,” he said. “We know that the word is getting out there.”