In 2020, with support from RGS, a proposed round-the-world flight on a legendary flight route Alsib (Alaska – Siberia) will take place. That was a name for an air route between Alaska and USSR during the Great Patriotic War. This route was used to deliver war planes according to lend-lease agreement. This project is dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the war end. In an exclusive interview, the initiator (mastermind) of this project and the President and Chairman of the non-profit BRAVO 369 Flight Foundation Jeff Geer explained the importance of this project and what it can teach the Americans and the whole world.
- Jeff, tell us more about the project ALSIB 2020?
- We would like to recreate the air bridge between Alaska and Siberia. This route was created during the Second World War. It was used to transfer American military planes to the Soviet Union. Few people know about this historic event nowadays. Meanwhile, at one time our countries were allies. It is this fact that we want to bring attention to and to tell how USA cooperated with USSR. And, of course, we want to honor war veterans.
- How did the idea of this project come about?
- It all started 13 years ago. I was involved with aviation at that time. Once, a representative from Alaska Airmen Association came to a meeting of pilots. He was looking for pilots for a flight from Alaska to Russian Far East. Here we need to remember one historical fact; it was Alaska Airlines that operated the so-called “Friendship Flight” to Provideniya settlement in 1988. It was an important event, the one that opened air borders, cultural and business exchange between the Soviet Union and USA.
I realized that it was a unique opportunity and decided to make this project meaningful. This is how I started to learn history of aviation between Russia and USA and how I found out the history of lend-lease. Honestly, that was the first time I heard about this program. At that time, I was around 47 years old, I had worked in aviation for many years, always was fond of history. My father and uncle served in the Navy during Second World War. But to my surprise, I learned then for the first time that between 1942 and 1945 our country transferred around 15,000 total (8000 by ALSIB route) war planes to the Soviet Union. Moreover, many officers, high-ranking officials and military people that I spoke with here in the U.S. also never heard of lend-lease or knew very little about it. It was somewhat forgotten history. And I wanted to tell about it. For this reason, in 2008 I organized a non-profit organization ‘BRAVO 369 Flight Foundation’. We never expected that our idea will turn into an international project and will receive such diplomatic support.
- Why was lend-lease agreement created?
- At that time, USA hadn’t participated in the war. But when Germany invaded the USSR, it became a big threat to our county. Still, there are around 90 kilometers between Alaska and Chukotka. President Roosevelt signed lend-lease into law in 1941. He said think of lend-lease like this “if your neighbor’s house is on fire and you have a water hose, lend the hose to your neighbor before your house catches fire. After the fire is put down, the neighbor will give the hose back. And if the hose breaks, he will reimburse with the money, when he can. This was the way he explained the lend-lease principle, according to which, America would supply its allies with military equipment. We expected to get the equipment back or to receive remuneration of the $10.9 billion U.S. Dollars provided in aid. Was there any remuneration from the Soviet Union – nobody knows for sure. But I think if I help my neighbor with a housefire, I do not expect any returns from him. I just want to maintain good friendly relationship with him.
- Why were you touched so much by this story?
- I had this burning desire to recreate this historic flight and to make a documentary about lend-lease, Alaska-Siberia air route and its heroes. I want this story to be heard by as many people as possible.
You know, I was amazed by another fact I want to talk about, the Alaska Highway to aid in delivery of military equipment to the Soviet Union we built an a massive highway across Canada and Alaska to support all of the military airstrips along the air route to Fairbanks, Alaska.. Just imagine, it was more than 2500 kilometers long! Its complexity is comparable with the Panama Canal construction.
- How long have you been preparing for this project?
- As a matter of fact, this is not the first “friendship flight’. In 2015, together with our Russian partner “RUSAVIA” corporation, we recreated the ASLIB air route that was longer that 9.5 thousand kilometers. It began in the city of Great Falls, Montana. It was there that Alsib air route originated. The route went through Canada and Alaska and finished in Krasnoyarsk. By the way, it was a key town during Great Patriotic War. It was the final destination airfield and the point of transfer of war planes to front-line combatants. This is why it was very symbolic to end the flight in Krasnoyarsk.
However, due to a geopolitical situation, we were not allowed to fly over the Russian territory in 2015. That’s why the part of the route between Fairbanks in Alaska and Krasnoyarsk was completed by our Russian colleagues without our participation. I was the commander of airplane T-6 Texan and wanted to complete the whole route to the end, but I had to stay in Alaska.
At that time, I practically gave up and decided to be done with the project because of bureaucratic difficulties. But the history of lend-lease and cooperation between the Soviet Union and USA was so important that I decided to go to the very end. And now, we are planning to recreate ‘friendship flight’ next year, in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Second World War ending.
- How long will the flight last?
- Last time it took us approximately 18 days to fly from Great Falls to Krasnoyarsk. In 2020 we identified a period from June through August, taking into account unexpected situations that no one can predict. For instance, bad weather conditions. Last time we faced strong forest fires in Alaska – because of smoke the visibility was very limited.
All in all, there will be 25 stops on the Alsib route with celebratory events along the way And after completion of the Russian portion, we propose that the flight will continue over Europe, with final stops in the U.K.. Then the planes will cross Atlantic Ocean and will come back to the starting point of this round-the-world flight. The around the world portion is still contingent on project funding.
- Tell us more about a documentary that you plan to make
- We want to document stories of locals, living historians, who are connected to transfer pilots. Maybe somebody is still around who remember heroic pilots that delivered planes over Russian air to Krasnoyarsk. During the previous flight people were looking for us, news that war planes from WW2 times are flying into town spread around very quick. I remember one story, it quite amazed me. It was told by a female from Krasnoyarsk. She worked as a dispatcher during lend-lease plane delivery. She told me that some pilots were asking to be rather sent into action, instead of transferring the planes over Siberia – that’s how dangerous it was.
-You have received support from RGS. What does this cooperation mean to you?
- We are very happy about it. I am confident that this partnership will allow us to realize our project. Knowing the members of the RGS Trustee Council, I think that without support from this organization we wouldn’t be able to complete the round-the-world ‘friendship flight’. And the flight will help to strengthen the friendship between our countries. This project is especially important today, when there is a disagreement between USA and Russia. I think that ALSIB 2020 is a great opportunity to recall our mutual history and show the whole world that our countries can still cooperate.
To follow the project please visit: alsib2020.com
Interviewed by Grigory Palnikov