Woman Plus...
  N 1, 2002

"Aviatriss" continues its flight

Tatiana Fedyaeva

    Each of us inspecting her old papers throws something out. I am not an exception. But a white pasteboard rectangle with a blue inscription "Certificate of parachute jumper" has been kept on a bookshelf among the dearest documents. In my life I had felt much on my own back, but such happiness, such a joy from overcoming your own fear, as during a drop, when a horror gives its turn to a staggering feeling of deliverance from it - I felt very seldom. Although, frankly speaking, I still hesitate whether during my first jump I was pushed out of the plane by the coach or being incautious I slipped out myself? It was long afterwards, in the jumps to follow, when I learned to understand something and just a little estimate the situation. They say, that after each jump, irrespective of the fact whether it is a first one or a hundredth, you loose two kilograms of weight. I don't know. I only know that after the first parachute jump I was not walking but flying and all the time repeating to myself the lines from "Song about falcon". I wanted everybody to know what a wonderful feeling and how marvelously it is: at first just to fall, then to hear a joyful flapping of an opening parachute above your head, start together with it, feel gratitude to the people who had invented this magic canopy with its strong silk and the method of packing it up, reliable airplane wings and many other things, - and then for some time hover above the earth and yell something wild whether from your own dashing folly or from joy that though as late as in my thirties but nevertheless I hit upon the idea to experience such a wonderful feeling!
    It began when I was preparing an article about my friend parachutist. Having heard my naive questions, as I understand now, she said: "How can you write about it if you haven't tried IT?"
    Having "tried it" I handed over the material to the editor's and with joy announced to the daring and self-confident men from all the departments - from party to agricultural one - that the pilots, in violation of the instructions (I've hardly urged them!), agreed to give the journalists an opportunity to jump at least once. My colleagues were watching me for a long time and than one of them asked me how much I had been paid for the jump, was surprised that I heard nothing of such a practice, and said that I had been duped and my money was defalcated, and, of course, that he was ready to try it any time but now ,unfortunately, he was very busy. The second turned out to have a sore throat, the third - to have to attend a plenary session of the district committee, and others just laughed: "We are not fools to maim ourselves!" And at once there remained nothing to talk about. But all this story is just a recollection on the subject...

When I was sitting in the assembly hall of the Central aeroclub and looking into the eyes of elderly women with badges "Master of sports of the USSR" on knitted blouses and unassuming jackets, at their orders, . medals and even gold stars of the Heroes of the USSR, I was not surprised and delighted, but just grew dumb in front of them: my own third-class "courage" in comparison with what they did is not worth speaking about.

Alexandra Akimova. Air squadron navigator of 46th Tamansky night bomber air regiment decorated with Order of the Red Banner and Order of Souvorov. Hero of Russia.

Antonina Bodareva, Guards senior lieutenant.. Pilot-instructor. During the war she trained 150 students. After the war she was an aircraft crew commander in a bomber air regiment.

Roufina Gasheva. Guards major. She made 848 operational flights. Hero of the Soviet Union.

Raisa Zhitova. 530 operational flights. After the war, flying on Yak-12 and Po-2 airplanes, she and her crew discovered iron-ore deposition in Karelia.

Galina Kozir. Three World Records on Il-18 air-liner, five World Records on Il-62 air-liner and World Record in parachute jumping.

Tamara Kossovskaya. 20-times Record-holder of the World and the Soviet Union. More than 5000 jumps.

Valentina Kotliar. Back-up of the first pilot of An-2 airplane during the Russian-American flight over the route of V.Grizodoubova crew dedicated to its 60th anniversary.

Полина Гельман. Гвардии капитан. Штурман полка ночных бомбардировщиков. 860 боевых вылетов. Герой Советского Союза.

Галина Богдановна Пясецкая. Летчица-участница войны. Недавно в возрасте 82 лет совершила прыжок с парашютом...

It's a pity that within one article it is impossible to tell about each of them! The fate of any of them is worth not only writing about in a magazine or a newspaper, but shooting films, publishing novels about. Their stories are more impressive than tear-stories of Mexican "Isabelles" and countless "Santa-Barbaras", so beloved by our contemporaries. But the problem is that almost all my heroines, having probably known the true value of words and actions, talk concisely, without sentimentalizing and going into details. Maybe, the flights accustomed them to clear commands where every word is functional? Or they just may fear that an outsider can be inaccurate while telling about important and dear things for them.

Anna Alekseevna Timofeeva-Egorova was a woman-pilot of the Il-2 in the 805th assault air regiment. Her plane was shot down. Everybody was sure that the girl was dead. A "killed in battle" notice came to her mother. In reality Anna being unconscious was taken war prisoner. She survived. She stood all the tests which the war prisoners of concentration camps were put to. A Hero of the Soviet Union. Who could tell everything she had experienced? She herself wrote several books about everything she had suffered.

The women-pilots club "Aviatriss" unites about 350 people. Now they are scattered around different countries, and sometime almost all of them used to be Soviet woman-pilots, navigators, mechanics, paratroopers... But, why "used to be"? Some of them still continue flying, but their number is decreasing. The last graduation of woman-pilots took place at Kremenchugskiy flying school of civil aviation 24 years ago... Now the representatives of Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Israel are the members of the club; American pilots participating in the Russian-American "grizodubovskiy" flight and participants of the round-the-world flight in 1992 (by the way, one of them, Vikky Carnas, a pilot of a "Boeng", took part in the organization of the First International Moscow Woman-pilots Forum) have recently applied for an entry.

What did everything begin with? Did it start from the liberal reforms appearing to be shock therapy in 1992? Did it start when they, woman-pilots, navigators, radio operators, flight engineers, flight mechanics and sportsmen of aviation sports, suddenly understood that they were embossed by a so-called market to the backyard of the life? Did it start when they saw that neither their experience nor their knowledge, nor their problems are in no need to anyone? When did they decide to unite - "...lest to perish one by one"?

For some reason I think that the starting-off point was the day, when a Barnaul excellent female-student came to the aeroclub. Unlike my jump which I described in the very beginning and considered to be the top of courage, she had not only to make the first step from a poppet board of a plane, but firstly, full-pelt, get to a wing and having estimated everything, lest the feet entangled, step forward. Have you imagined? With a gold medal and a directive from the aeroclub Galya Korchuganova left for the Moscow aviation institute: there were no hesitations or vacillations what institute to enter. Only aviation. Upon graduating one of the most difficult - instrument-making - faculty she became an engineer in a CB (design office) and continued going in for aviation sport. She was eager to test planes. But women were not accepted to a test-pilot school. It was forbidden by the instruction.

But in the same way as she was going towards her first jump, Galina was persistently going towards flights. And only after she became an overall champion of the world and the USSR, had flown more than a thousand hours in the air, the Ministry of aviation industry responded to her requests and applications. But for all that an ornate condition was put: "If an audacious director of the enterprise who will take you as a test-pilot, is found, we won't mind. As an exception."... But a bold man didn't turn up. A woman was found. Valentina Stepanovna Grizodubova, a Hero of the Soviet Union, was at that time was the director of the Scientific-research test-flight center. She needed people gifted as Galina: persistent, efficient, reliable.

Galina finished Higher Training Aviation school, and then the courses under the test-pilots school. An overall champion of the world and the USSR, a prize-winner of the USSR and world championships. She held 42 world records piloting Yak-32, Yak-40, An-24 airplanes. An honoured master of sports, international-class master of sports. More than 4000 hours in the sky, 1500 of them - in the test-flights. Participant of air displays and air shows. She was rewarded with orders and medals. But one of her good deeds still isn't officially rewarded, though it is difficult to find a deserved reward.

It was she, Galina Gavrilovna Korchuganova, who arrived at an idea to establish a club. Why? What for? May be the main reason for that was her own experience: she herself saw a lot, saw her share of joy (everybody saw it), but still more grief (she tells nobody about it), moreover she knew very well the lives of her female-colleagues and understood that they, with their tempers - strong, purposeful, hard-edged - would badly join a new life, demanding an ability to adjust oneself, avoid taking sides, abruptly change profession. The time proposed those, who were used to inhale the sky, to become hawkers in the markets. An employment service suggested that a parachutist should become an accountant and a flight engineer should master at least some useful profession. For example, they could cook pies or establish an artel of folk handicraft business.

Moreover, they, used to prosperity in their former lives, now turned out to be almost beggars. According to the law the pension of those who "flew or to crawled" appeared equally miserable. Here is a test-pilot... try your strength under this kind of test... Somebody can ask, plead. But not woman-pilots. Then how to live? And they got used to have prosperous life.

Being the heiresses of the first Russian woman-pilots, called "aviatrisses" in the beginning of the century, 13 women gave to their club, headed by Galina Kurchuganova, who proved to be their permanent chief, the same name. Tatiana Gubanova (15 world records piloting helicopters), Lidia Zaiceva (2 world records piloting MIG-21 aircraft, international-class master of sports), Zinaida Lizunova (champion of the world at aerobatics, international-class pilot), Evgenia Martova (7 world records), Tamara Egorkina (helicopter-pilot, silver medallist of the USSR in all-round men competitions, all-round champion of the world), Maria Akilina (served in landing troops during the war, then as a pilot made 509 operational flights, rewarded with two Orders of the Red Banner)... Services and titles of others are not less.

Galina Kurchuganova says "At first, only woman-pilots from Moscow and regions situated near Moscow were the members of the club. Gradually it was replenished by the members from other regions, mainly, graduates from Kremenchugskiy flying school, who celebrated 20 years from their graduation in 1993. Sportswoman-pilots of the aeroclub DOSAAF (Voluntary Association of Assistance to Army, Aviation and Fleet) for a long time sought for an opportunity to fly in the professional aviation. They appealed to different organizations and achieved, in many respects owing to Valentina Stepanovna Grizodubova, an organization of women admission to the flying school. The first graduation took place in 1973, the second (and the last) - in 1977. Altogether 70 girls graduated from the Kremenchugskiy flying school. Almost all of them, having flied in the civil aviation, have a badge "For accident-free flights" which not each man-pilot possesses". (It concerns a question about women and men professions.)

By the way, at the last meeting they discussed how men and women fought and flew at war and what was the difference. Irina Vaycheslavovna Rakobolskaya, now a professor at MGU (Moscow State University), and during the war was chief of staff of the 46th Tamansky Guards regiment of night bombers decorated with orders of the Red Banner and Suvorov. Telling about her female friends at war, she remembered both embroidered by them flowers on the feet wraps, and bombs which they held in their arms in the cabin, and that at first they, the girls, were laughed at and called "Dunkin regiment", and then jokes changed into sincere respect and, as far as Germans are concerned, into fear. It were the latter who called the regiment "night witches". Women fought not in the least worse than men and in some ways even better. For example, in bad weather they adapted to spend the night straight in the planes and thus they managed at the slightest clearing in the clouds to make at least one more sortie than men, who as a rule rested at some distance from the airdrome...

Now there are many public organizations in the country. "Aviatriss" stays in some way apart from them. They do not take part in the meetings of non-commercial sector. They do not participate in the competitions to win a grant. They do not have permanent sponsors. And still they do many things. They have conducted four international woman-pilots forums and now are preparing for the fifth one. Pooling as much money as possible they gather for tea-drinking and thematic evenings. On the 10th anniversary of Chernobil they met with the pilots, designers and engineers who had taken part in the liquidation of the accident. It was a pity: unlike Chernobil constructors, who received rewards from the hands of the President of Russia, the pilots turned to be deprived of their due share...

You may have a wrong impression that woman-pilots meet only to discuss the problems. Of course, it doesn't turn without it. But such a club wouldn't have lasted long. Here everybody is tied together by something else. Galina Kurchuganova: "In 1998 we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the legendary flight of the Grizodubova's crew on the plane "Rodina" (motherland). Valentina Stepanovna Grizodubova was honorary member of "Aviatriss" till her death. But the idea of the jubilee flight doesn't belong to us. It was a proposal of Nikky Mitchel, an American woman-pilot. Great organizational and financial difficulties lied ahead. But...a road will be got through by a man who is walking. Moscow city administration and International Fund of aviation security undertook the solution of the main problems. As a result two planes, an American Maul-5 and a Russian AN-2 of Orenburg airlines, took off from the Tushinsky aerodrome. They were piloted by Nataliya Vinocurova, pilot of the TU-154 of Magadan airlines (a first pilot), and Nikky Mitchel. Ronda Miles and Halidee Makagonova, all-round champion at aerobatics, flew in the Maul-5... All the TV-channels reported this flight. We hoped that the flight would draw attention of the youth, mainly, of the girls. Then giving talk on the radio I called upon all the girls, wishing to become woman-pilots, to address to the club in order to fight together for equal rights while entering flying schools. The program was repeated. But no appeal to the club was received. Is it possible that in the XXI century only memories about Russian aviatrisses will be kept? Are the woman-pilots serving in the armies of the USA, Great Britain, Israel and other countries really better than ours? I don't believe it!"

Talking about principles which underlie the relations between the club members she adds: "In the "Aviatriss" there is no place for anger , hatred , envy, unfriendliness and squabbles. At the sea of cruelty and intolerance our club has become an island of good, warmth, light and love, where everyone coming here may warm up her frozen soul..."

Having attended the meeting of the club devoted to the 60th anniversary of women regiments oath of enlistment, when the woman-pilots were not only remembering but talking, singing (by the way together with the actors of "Gelicon" theatre, "Aviatriss" constant friends), drinking tea and a little wine, when breaking up they were not hurrying home but to their ill female friends; having felt their peculiar fighting brotherhood or ,to be more precise, "sisterhood", I regretted that some time, long ago, I didn't venture to become a pilot. They must have felt it. And proposed: "It doesn't matter that you are only a third-class parachutist. Anyway you are a flying sportswoman. You may enter our club." It will make you laugh, but I felt joy.