Aviation has played an extremely important role in the development of the polar latitudes. At the same time, some of the achievements of the past seem incredible even today. For example, during the ice exploration in Antarctica on March 18, 1957, the commander of the naval expedition squadron, Hero of the Soviet Union Ilya Mazuruk and pilot Alexander Polyakov on an An-2 aircraft landed on the top of an iceberg for the first time.

The first documented case of a human landing on the ice of Antarctica occurred on January 24, 1895. Then three Norwegians and a New Zealander collected the rocks of the continent, and also discovered vegetation — lichens. Researchers were amazed that living organisms can live and reproduce in such a harsh climate.

Soon, a real boom began in the exploration of the sixth continent, which is known in history as the “heroic age of Antarctic exploration.” From 1897 to 1922, 16 international expeditions were organized, in which 19 people died. In 1929, American Richard Byrd flew an airplane over the South Pole, which no one was able to repeat for the next 27 years.

Soviet work in Antarctica began only in 1946, when the Slava whaling flotilla with a group of scientists on board entered its waters. Oceanographic research was also conducted from the ships along the way. But Western countries wanted to push back our specialists, saying that the territory was already divided among those who came earlier.

In response, in June 1950, the Soviet government stated that “it cannot recognize as legitimate any decision on the Antarctic regime taken without its participation.” Recalling that it was the Russian navigators who discovered the mainland in an expedition led by Thaddeus Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev on the sloops Vostok and Mirny in 1820.

Some other measures were taken against discrimination against the Soviet Union. When US President Harry Truman’s Secretary of State James Byrnes, who always advocated the toughest sanctions against the USSR, unexpectedly resigned, he finally responded about Antarctica and our claims: “It turned out impossible to scare the damn Russians. They won on this issue.”

After agreeing on organizational issues, at the Paris Conference on the preparation of the International Geophysical Year in 1955, the Soviet representative announced that the USSR planned to build stations at the Southern Geomagnetic Pole and the Pole of Inaccessibility, as well as a support base on the Shore of Knox.

The first Soviet expedition to Antarctica

Antarctic research began under the supervision of Hero of the Soviet Union Mikhail Somov. The pioneers were faced with the task of organizing the main coastal base, choosing places for the creation of future inland stations, starting work in the interior of the mainland using land transport and aviation, and conducting comprehensive oceanological research in the Indian sector of Antarctic waters.

Three months passed, and on November 30, 1955, the Ob diesel-electric ship, converted into a research vessel, left Kaliningrad in the direction of Antarctica. It had three aircraft on board — Il-12D (amphibious), Li-2T (transport) and An-2, as well as a Mi-1 helicopter. This is how the first Soviet expedition began.

Two weeks later, the Lena diesel-electric ship and Refrigerator No. 7 with 4 thousand tons of cargo, a Li-2 aircraft and two Mi-4 helicopters headed along the same route to the sixth continent. In total, the polar explorers received seven boards equipped and several modified for flights in harsh climatic conditions. Experienced polar explorer Ivan Cherevichny was assigned to command the expeditionary air squadron, consisting of 21 people.

Immediately after unloading from the diesel-electric ship, it turned out that due to confusion during loading, containers with helicopter parts ended up on different ships. For example, during assembly, the absence of wheels was found. The aviators decided not to wait for supplies and to adapt the wheels from the An-2 aircraft for the Mi-1, and to manufacture other missing parts in the workshops of the Obi vessel. On January 8, 1956, a Soviet helicopter took to the skies of Antarctica for the first time. But the very next day, a strong storm began, which lasted for three days.

People made superhuman efforts to save the half-assembled aircraft [AN-2]. The furious wind knocked him down, and nothing could be seen through the snowy haze. Almost every minute they were calling each other so as not to get lost in this snow chaos. The situation has become threatening. With great difficulty, they drove several more dead metal wedges into the ice and stretched additional cables. The trouble is that the individual components of the machine were not really fixed yet, but everything ended well.

As soon as the weather allowed, pilot Alexey Kash, on an An-2 aircraft with several scientists on board, made the first reconnaissance flight in order to find a place to build the first Soviet Antarctic station. It was only on January 14 that it was possible to find a suitable site in the Haswell Islands area, 4 km from the edge of the solder. The landing was successful, but the plane could not take off from it — the terrible cold, the thinness of the air did not allow the engine to start. Fortunately, the crew was able to establish stable radio communication.

On the newly assembled Li-2, without stopping the engines after landing, Cherevichy took them on board. It became clear that the Li-2T and An-2 aircraft needed additional refinement for such harsh climatic conditions. In particular, it was necessary to equip the aircraft with turbocharging to ensure the preservation of power in the terrible cold.

These initial sorties over the continent showed that the working conditions of aviation on the sixth continent will differ in many ways from those in the Arctic. For example, the starry sky looked completely different here — you will have to get used to working with astronomical and magnetic compasses. If flights in the Arctic were carried out mainly over the water surface or ice fields at low altitudes, then in Antarctica, where mountain ranges rose to 4 thousand meters, flights will be high-altitude. Besides, there were no reliable maps of the area yet, they only had to be compiled.

The first Russian Antarctic settlement — 21 buildings and an airfield — was built in two months. On February 13, the USSR flag was hoisted over the Mirny station on the Shore of Pravda. It became the base point for further development of the continent. 92 people stayed in Mirny for the first winter (1955-1956). That year, our station became the largest in Antarctica. Flights began deep into the continent, where the Vostok station was soon founded.

The second Antarctic expedition

The tasks of the second Antarctic expedition (1956-1957) included the change of personnel of the first and the completion of the construction of the Mirny station, the creation of two more scientific stations inland in the area of the Southern Geomagnetic Pole and in the area of the Pole of relative inaccessibility, the organization of a toboggan-tractor hike deep into the continent to conduct glaciological research. It was also necessary to begin a comprehensive study of the South polar waters.

The Hero of Socialist Labor Alexei Treshnikov was assigned to lead the work of the second expedition. Three ships and 625 people were placed at his disposal, of which 189 were to stay for the winter. In total, the pilots of the second expedition spent 3.4 thousand hours in the air, transported about 800 tons of cargo and made more than 300 landings on unprepared sites.

The unique landing on the top of the iceberg took place on March 18, 1957. The possibility of landing aircraft on an ice floe drifting in the ocean was being worked out. Having shown courage and high professionalism, Ilya Mazuruk and Alexander Polyakov demonstrated the reliability and durability of our aviation equipment — they flawlessly landed on a very limited improvised runway.

After returning from the expedition, Alexander Polyakov was appointed commander of the ship of the 254th flight detachment of polar aviation. And on December 15, 1961, an unprecedented flight of two aircraft on the Moscow — Antarctica route began with eight landings for refueling: across four continents and two oceans, 26,423 km were overcome. Having completed all the tasks, both ships returned home to Sheremetyevo on February 2, 1962. The commander of the leading Il-18 was Polyakov. The second An-12 aircraft, which was considered a cargo aircraft, was operated by Boris Osipov.

At the end of 1957, the third expedition of the famous scientist Evgeny Tolstikov arrived on the mainland. To date, dozens of research expeditions have been completed, which has allowed us to accumulate and summarize a huge amount of material.

By Dmitry Khazanov