The event at Pearson Air Museum celebrated the moment when pilot Valery Chkalov, co-pilot Georgy Baidukov and navigator Alexander Belyakov returned to the ground at 8:22 a.m., ending a record-setting flight of 63 hours and 16 minutes.
Their journey across the roof of the world also marked the first flight over the North Pole.
Yuri Gerasin, the Russian consul general based in Seattle, said he was 10 years old when he learned about Vancouver’s place in his nation’s history.
“This event was very well- known,” Gerasin said.
It was a heroic deed, the consul general said, but it also served “as a symbol of the desire to have good relations” between the two countries.
When Chkalov saw the crowd waiting for them at Portland’s Swan Island airfield, he was afraid his airplane might get torn into scrap metal by souvenir hunters. So he headed across the Columbia, where the military airfield at Vancouver Barracks figured to have better crowd control.
Bill Alley, who writes about Northwest aviation history, said the ANT-25 wouldn’t have done an Amelia Earhart-style disappearing act if Chkalov had continued south.
“Medford had a big field,” Alley said.
But there was a reason Chkalov might have favored Pearson over other airfields in the region, Alley said.
“If they had an opportunity to fly over or land at a military field, they could collect a little intelligence,” Alley said.
Valery Chkalov died in a crash while test-piloting a plane in 1938.
As Petcoff recalls the event, the U.S. Army’s response to the unexpected landing was a mixture of military authority and a little bit of hastiness.
“I can recall seeing Gen. George Marshall,” who rushed down to greet the Russians, Petcoff said. “I remember seeing he had his topcoat on over his pajamas.”
Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history; email@example.com.