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Gratsianskiy Olexiy: Aviation As A Way of Life

Photo. Gratsianskiy Olexiy

At the Berlin International Air Expo 1928, the visitors' general curiosity was attracted by the world's first ever medical aircraft, the K-3, designed by Konstantin Kalinin and presented by the Kharkiv Aircraft Factory. Aviation experts and aviators closely examined its special cabin, stretcher fasteners and other devices for transporting ill and injured people. They were also fascinated with an enormous image on the stand – one with a burly young man in a flight suit, who held a welded fuselage fairing with a wide smile on his face. In realitay, as the young hero depicted on the stand remembered later, holding a 180-kilogram fairing wasn't easy at all, but the photo demonstrated USSR's ability to produce such lightweight tubing that it could be held by a single person – and that was worth suffering for.

The young aviator's name was Olexiy Gratsianskiy. A year before he graduated from the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute and was now working in the Kharkiv Aircraft Factory's design bureau. Actually, it was he who designed the K-3 plane's cabin, which foreign experts liked so much. Afterwards, his life underwent a drastic change, he became a famous test pilot, and throughout his flying career his engineering experiences, attained first in the KPI, and then in Kalinin design bureau, helped him immensely.

First-time Fascination

Olexiy Mykolaiovitch Gratsianskiy was a born Kievite. He was born on March 20th, 1905, in a family of teachers. His father taught Russian literature in one of Kiev real schools, while his mother worked as an elementary school teacher. Due to financial hardships, the family was forced to move to Berdichev for a while, but they returned to Kiev in the harsh year of 1919. In a year Olexiy's working career started: he became a fitter's apprentice on the Rempovitrya-6 factory (now State Enterprise Kyiv "Aviant" Factory). It was a newly-established aircraft repair factory, with the well-known aviation expert Viktoryn Bobrov, then-rector of KPI, appointed as its chief manager. The choice of his first workplace wasn't random – both his father and elder brothers were fascinated by aviation's first achievements, and this fascination passed down to Olexiy.

The new worker's first task was clearing and adjusting cylinder flappers on aircraft engines, such as Rhone, Clerget and Salmson engines, widely used in aviation's early days. Although sometimes, he had to work with different engines, too. Usually no manuals or blueprints for them were available, and so Olexiy had to get acquainted with them all by himself. This first years of working, with all the difficulties, did not only manage not to dissuade Olexiy Gratsianskiy from aviation, but were and indispensable experience, which helped him immensely in his later life as a test pilot. Seeing the young boy's love of flight, his dilligence and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, in 1921 the factory sent Olexiy Gratsianskiy to study at the Kiev Polytechnic Institute.

A Polytechnic Institute Student

The same year, Olexiy Gratsianskiy entered KPI Mechanical department, known for its aviation traditions. But his first troubles as a student had little to do with studying. Academic lifestyle, ground to a halt during the Civil War, resumed slowly. The institute buildings needed repairing. An enormous problem, considering the coming winter, was organizing heating in study rooms. Hence, students were formed into special brigades, tasked with repairs and providing firewood. After lectures and practice studies they headed to institute facilities and worked there until late. Grazianskiy was among those who disassembled an abandoned narrow-gauge railway leading to the village of Korchuvate, near Kyiv: its ties were used to fuel the institute's stoves. Soon the city handed a part of the forest near Puscha-Vodytsya over to KPI, and Olexiy spent two whole months until winter logging trees, sharing a tent with his friends, warming around the campfire used to prepare food.

Afterwards, Student Gratsianskiy was sent to the Komsomol's Special Purpose Detachments (SPD) and spent almost four months fighting with Orlyk, Marusya and Mordalevych's bandits, who terrorized Kiev's suburbs.

Only in Spring 1922 did Olexiy Gratsianskiy start studying in the earnest. As he was one of the first students who chose the recently started aviation specialty in the Mechanics department, he took an active part in outfitting training and demonstration aircraft workshops, the aircraft engine design room and the air museum.

With great excitement, Olexiy Gratsianskiy started working with the Aviation Science and Technology Society (ASTS), which basically supplied the practical parts in training new aviation experts. His heart took foremostly to studies and working in ASTS' gliders department.

Gratsianskiy's first teachers in those years were aviation pioneers, brothers Ivan, Andriy and Ev'hen Kasyanenkos. They were the history of Ukrainian aircraft design come alive, they went to great lengths to gain approval for aviation training at KPI. One of their pre-Revolution airplanes – the Kasyanenko №4 ultralight aircraft (also known as the Dragonfly), the first such aircraft in domestic aviation history, test-piloted by the famous Peter Nesterov in 1913, - even served as a visual training aid for ASTS members.

Another person who immensely influenced Olexiy's later life was his older friend Konstantin Kalinin, the ASTS' Science Secretary, who lived through World War I and the Civil War, and, being an experienced pilot and manager, was finishing his specialty studies in KPI.

Summer practice in 1924 gave student-turned-aviator Gratsianskiy another longtime friend – and another great person: Konstantin Artseulov, grandson of the famous painter Konstantin Aivazovsky and a legend amond the country's pilots – the one who mastered the insidious corkscrew maneuver.

That summer was very eventful. It started with work practice on the Dux Aircraft Factory in Moscow, where a group of students from around the country were getting acquainted with the production of the P-1 aircraft, and then on the factory's Air Test Station on Hodynskoye Field – organizing and studying the methods of flight testing. Demonstration flight studies were headed by then-young aviator Artseulov.

After the practice ended, Olexiy Gratsianskiy and Konstantin Artseulov took part in the Second All-Union Gliding Competitions at Koktebel', where members of ASTS KPI's gliders department demonstrated their own glider, the KPIR-1, for the first time. It is worth noting that the glider was flown by a famous pilot from Kiev and, at the same time, a student of KPI, Konstantin Yakovchuk, and students-designers worked as technicians, mechanics and assistant judges. Taking note of Olexiy Gratsianskiy's formidable physique, the organizers put him into the launch crew, where he, together with other strong young men, launched different gliders of various weight and design into the air from dusk till dawn, using rubber shock absorbers of enormous length. There, on Mount Uzun-Syrt, he met with Professor Vetchinkin, the pupil and associate of Nikolay Zhukovskiy, the future aircraft designers Tupolev, Ilyushin, Antonov and Gurevich. And, thanks to Artseulov – with the famous poet and artist Maximillian Voloshyn, who lived in Koktebel'. He took a live interest in new business and even invited the aviators to his place.

Full of new experiences and acquaintances, the summer's universities imbued them with confidence in their chosen life's path, and with the start of the new year Olexiy took to studies even more dilligently than before. He didn't stop working in the gliders department, too. His fascination with gliding was an interesting and important facet of his life, one which shaped Gratsianskiy into the future pilot of fame. On this basis Olexiy Gratsianskiy befriended another student of the Mechanics department of KPI, the future space pioneer Sergey Korolyov. They both studied in the ASTS KPI's gliding school.

And practically every day Olexey hurried to his dear factory: Konstantin Kalinin invited him, Olexiy Rudenko, Dmytro Tomashevich and several other students to work on the first domestic passenger aircraft, which the young workers and technicians at Rempovitrya started building in their spare time. It was a really serious task, especially for KPI's students, who did it while continuing their studies.

The design was successful: it passed all the tests and was approved for production. Since it was planned to be produced in the Joint Company Ukrpovitryashlyakh's workshops in Kharkiv, KPI graduate Konstantin Kalinin, for whom the K-1 was a diploma project, was appointed as the chief of those workshops. And, he was tasked with turning them into an aircraft factory, with its own design bureau.

Young Engineer

Having graduated from KPI, in early 1926 Olexiy Gratsianskiy also moved to Kharkiv – but now as an aircraft engineer. From the first days of working in Ukrpovitryashlyakh's workshops he, together with the other members of the young team, involved himself in designing the K-3 medical aircraft. Gratsianskiy was in charge of outfitting the special cabin for transporting ill and injured people, and he completed the task brilliantly. Hence, the success of the 'sanitary' (as the pilots called it) at the Berlin Air Expo was in part due to Olexiy Gratsianskiy.

However, unionwide and even international acclaim could not save the new bureau from the intrigues of their enemies at Ukrpovitryashlyakh, who, in effect, backed the interests of the German firm Dornier, which provided its aircraft for use in Ukraine for several years. Young engineer Gratsianskiy went through the struggle to produce domestic aircraft shoulder-to-shoulder with Konstantin Kalinin. In the end the affair caught the attention of the government, the Ukrpovitryashlyakh's board of directors was re-elected, and the young design team's developments were given the green light. In record time they built the K-4 aircraft, which was produced in three variants, and the K-5, which was destined to become the Soviet Union's main domestic passenger aircraft for decades to come. Gratsianskiy took a most active part in designing both aircraft. And even the quick pace of work did not prevent him from studying again – but this time he took up flying.

Actually, he got his first experience at piloting at the gliders department of ASTS: there, with the rest of Society's members, he took turns doing short flights aboard the KPIR-3 glider. In fact, he became friends with Sergey Korolyov while building and testing this glider. However, the students then didn't fly too high, but rather made low-altitude flights along the airfield. Now he had the possibility to become a pilot, like he wanted when he was a child. Konstantin Kalinin, once an experienced military pilot, who lived through WWI and the Civil War, gave his approval. As Olexiy Gratsianskiy remembered, when Kalinin saw his younger colleague being drawn into the skies, he told him: "Well, go ahead. But don't forgo your work. A good aircraft engineer must know how to fly".

However, actually getting into the flight school turned out to be a tricky proposition for Gratsianskiy. Admittance conditions clearly stated that a trainee pilot couldn't weigh more than eighty kilograms. But Gratsianskiy, with his formidable physique, weighed 90! Hence he had to lose weight in just two months left before the studies started. These months were a true test of character and dedication to his dream. Olexiy not only restricted his eating habits, but also routinely got up two hours before his dorm mates and ran around the forest park, gradually increasing the distance up to 15 kilometers. His efforts were not in vain: before the school started he already weighed 79 kilograms, and the medical commission retracted any objections to his admission.

Trainee pilots learned to fly old WWI-era aircraft: the school had four Avro aircraft – called U-1 in the school, and a single Anrio aircraft with Rhone engines. The aircraft had nothing in the way of flight instruments – the pilot had to strap the altimeter to his thigh. The aircraft constantly broke, so trainees didn't sit around doing nothing – everything they serviced and repaired themselves. Imperfect materiel almost cost Olexiy Gratsianskiy his life: during his second single flight his engine stalled and, were it not for his nerve and his expertise in flying unpowered aircraft, he would have crashed. This incident, however, did not cause him to refrain from further training: he successfully finished the course and was admitted into Ukrpovitryashlyakh's training squadron, which was training passenger aircraft pilots. There he practised flying aircraft of different manufacturers and attained much higher qualification.

Test Pilot

After finishing his flight training Olexiy Gratsianskiy was almost immediately admitted into the ranks of the factory's test pilots. At first Olexiy did not stop working as a designer, but in time the workload grew so much that he had to leave the drawing board for good. Test pilots were busy all the time, but Gratsianskiy's profound knowledge of machinery he had to fly was a major help. The first aircraft he was charged with testing were production models of Kalinin's K-4, K-5 and K-6 aircraft, known to him back from the blueprints. Having become an ace test pilot, Gratsianskiy sharply felt each plane not only as a pilot, but as an aircraft designer too. After each flight he advised the designers on what should be improved in the aircraft's design. In the beginning of 1930 Osoaviakhim (Society of Assistance to Defence, Aircraft and Chemical Industry) announced a competition for the best project for a sport trainer aircraft, Olexiy Gratsianskiy's lifelong dream. In his spare time from flying, he took to designing the new aircraft. In spring 1930 he forwarded his project to the commission – a project, which was selected as the best project from all over Ukraine. Specifically noted were good aerodynamic characteristics of the proposed aircraft, together with innovative wing elements, which allowed for high flight performance with a low-power engine. The aircraft also had a stabilizer that could be operated in flight, duplicate flight controls, and for ease of ground storage and transportation the two pilots could fold the aircraft's wings along its fuselage in approximately two minutes. In addition, Gratsianskiy and the engineers V.Melnykow and V.Bondarenko, who helped him with the project, paid significant attention to aerodynamics: the cockpit canopy was retracted into the fuselage, and both the engine and the landing gear were covered with cowls.

The first airframe of the sports trainer was assembled and test-flown at the Kharkiv Aircraft Factory in early 1931. The aircraft was named Omega – for the first letters of its author's name, patronymic and surname – Olexiy Mykolaiovitch Gratsianskiy.

In 1933 the plane received yet another award – this time at an All-Union competition. However, it didn't go into mass production – there was no engine. The craft was designed for an experimental NAMI-65 (M-23) engine, which did not live up to its developers' expectations. As such, the only Omega airframe was refurbished for an imported Walther 60 horsepower engine and handed over to Osoaviakhim's Poltava Flight School, where it was used by trainee pilots up until 1941.

However, flying remained Olexiy Gratsianskiy's main occupation. And not only test flights: in 1931, to be qualified for passenger flights on a K-5, the aircraft had to be tested in long-range flight. Kalinin entrusted this flight to Olexiy Gratsianskiy. The flight was to be long: Kharkiv – Rostov-na-Donu – Mineralniye Vody – Krasnovodsk – Ashgabat – Samarkand – Tashkent – Orenburg – Samara – Penza – Kharkiv. Not only the flight itself, but preparations for it were, for Olexiy Mykolaiovitch, another step to mastering flying.

In 1932, the name Gratsianskiy again was sounded all over the country - he became the commander of the crew of the "K-5", which makes the campaigning flight on the way Kharkov - Kiev - Zhitomir - Vinnitsa - Odessa - Nikolaev - Kherson - Zaporozhye - Makeevka - Kramators'k - Kharkiv.

The main purpose of the air campaign was to demonstrate the achievements of Soviet aircraft and encourage people to join the Osoaviakhim. In all localities crew "Five" led by Gratsianskim has been greeted with enthusiasm and genuine interest. Meetings were accompanied by not only a solemn meeting, but airplane riding of local activists Osoaviahim. This, incidentally, was very hard work - only in Kiev for two days the young pilot made thirty-four such flights.

1932 gave Gratsianskomu acquaintance which radically influenced the next stage of his life and work. He made friends with a former military pilot Sigismund Levanevskiy. Then Levanevskiy headed Poltava Osoaviahim Pilot School so often he has been at the Kharkov aircraft factory in order to update and repair his aircraft park. During one of the meetings Levanevskiy shared with Aleksei Nikolaevich his plans to transfer to the North.

One year later, these plans of Levanevskiy have been materialized, and after a while his name as the author of long-distance flights are increasingly began to appear on the pages of Soviet and world press. Levanevskiy name became world famous after he managed to save the American pilot James Mattern. During his attempt to make a solo circumnavigation flight, he crashed and made ​​an emergency landing in the Chukotka's tundra. Levanevskiy managed to find him and in the extremely difficult weather conditions to take him out to the city of Nome on Alaska. For this action he was awarded the Order of the Red Star.

During one of these visits in Kharkov Levanevskiy in a friendly conversation with Gratsianskiy also offered him a transfer to Polar Aviation - saying that he has all the needed qualities for work at the North: experience, good health and a strong character. However, at that time Alexei was very buisy with affair, which was considered the main by Kharkov aircraft manufacturers: approaching state tests of still unseen in world aviation aircraft "Kalinin" K-7.

The tragedy of the world's largest plane of the original scheme "all wing" is now well known. Today, aviation experts know that the cause of catastrophe, which resulted in the deaths of fifteen of the twenty crew members and researchers, was the flutter - a phenomenon, which by the time the designers and pilots almost never met. Gratsiansky himself did not fly at a new aircraft, but was involved in the fixing of the test results. On that tragic day 21 november 1933, when the air giant during the test to determine the maximum speed, flew over the research base, and suddenly ceased to obey rudders. Gratsiansky on his aircraft "K-5" provided filming flight. He landed his plane almost next to the impact site, "Kalinin" K-7, and together with other plant workers pulled out of the burning airplane people ...

Request Alexei Gratsianskogo to transfer him to the Office of Polar Aviation was signed at the end of the same year. Konstantin Kalinin embraced him and warmly said goodbye to Alexey Nykolajovych. As it turned out, forever ...

Polar aviator

Before obtaining an appointment in one of the polar aviation units, Alex Gratsiansky trained in Serpukhov school for the blind and night flights at the Air Force Academy named after Zhukovsky. Flying in very poor visibility were part of pilot training to work in the Arctic. After that, for a few more winter months before the spring navigation of 1934 Gratsiansky studied navigator skills in specially equipped classrooms of Academy. Alexander Belyakov - in the near future member of Valery Chkalov crew in the ultra-long-haul flights, taught a new generation of polar pilots.

  In the same February and March 1934 Alexey Gratsiansky together with the entire country anxiously waited posts from the Far North on the salvation of march participants on board of the steamer "Cheliuskin." This ship was to take the Northern Sea Route, but it was trapped, and soon - squashed by ice. From the ice floes, which under the influence of winds, currents and tides constantly kept in motion, the expedition of scientists and crew members during March and early April, has been removed by airplanes. Seven pilots who in extremely difficult weather conditions saved all Chelyuskinites, became the first in the history of the Soviet Union Heroes of the Soviet Union. Among them was Sigismund Levanevskiy. Then Alex Gratsiansky did not know that it will take a little time and already he would have to seek Levanevskiy in the vast expanses of the
Arctic ...

Krasnoyarsk became the destination of Gratsianskiy. More precisely, for him it was the main base, as most part of his life Alexey spent on long-haul flights. The task of the crew, of which he became commander, was participation in the laying of air routes between the ports of the Northern Sea Route and large stations of the Trans-Siberian Railway and organization of regular communication between them.

Gratsianskiy literally had to learn "on the move" a new plane - before he had never sat behind the wheel of amphibious aircraft. Now, after a few days he mastered flying boat "MBR-2", created in 1932, aircraft designer Georgi Mikhailovich Beriev at the Central Design Bureau for Marine aircraft. The aircraft could carry air passengers and quite significant cargo. And, most importantly, it does not need specially prepared sites on land. Therefore, the route goes over the pools of large Siberian rivers Yenisei, Lena and Angara, which, together with their surrounding bays and lakes were airfields for aircraft.

His first route was Krasnoyarsk - Tiksi with stops in Balagansk, Ust-Kut, Kirenske, Vitim, Yakutsk and other settlements for refueling, transfer of cargo and mail. The first flight consisted of two airplanes - the second plane was piloted by the famous polar aviator, holder of two orders- Victor Galyshev. Subsequently, at Tiksi (but from Irkutsk), he began to fly in turn with other crews about three times a month. To the North were transported geologists, doctors, teachers, workers - all those who have been needed by indigenous peoples of the North and those without whom it was impossible to settle. Sometimes it happened to carry even touring team of Moscow artists. And, of course, they delivered batteries for radios, equipment and tools for geologists and winterers, weapons and ammunition for hunters, medicine and much more.

From there, they picked up the fur, it was taken from remote hunting factories, gold from the banks of the Aldan. A year later, Alexei Nikolaevich was transferred to another track - Krasnoyarsk - Dixon, through Igarka, Dudinka and other settlements and winter quarters. Of course, sometimees emergency landings and dangerous adventures happened, from which, however, the crew Gratsianskiy went out with honor and a new experience necessary for successful flights at high latitudes.

Search for Levanevskiy

Older people remember well the old and good comedy Grigory Alexandrov "Volga-Volga". In one of the episodes of this on the broad Volga space suddenly twin-engine seaplane appears - if the symbol of new life, the rapid industrialization and the growing power of the country. In fact, the plane was designed and manufactured in the United States, and these pictures were taken not in the Volga, but Kama. But at the controls, really, a audience compatriot was - pilot Alexei Gratsiansky. However, this survey was preceded by a series of events.

... In 1937, after two successful navigations and winter holiday Gratsiansky received an invitation from Levanevskiy together to conduct tests of the new amphibious aircraft "S-43", purchased in the United States, which would be used at the Yenisei track. The developer of the aircraft was an outstanding aircraft designer, who, as well as Gratsiansky, who was born in Kiev and studied in the KPI, but at the time of the October Revolution was forced to emigrate - Igor Sikorsky. The aircraft was equipped with two powerful engines, had a large capacity, can carry up to 15 passengers and 4 crew, and, of course, compared to the "MBR-2" was extremely comfortable.

The first tests of amphibian Sikorsky have been conducted in Crimea. Two experienced pilots took off and landed in a calm and windy conditions, flew around the peninsula at a distance. But Alexei Gratsiansky ended the testing by himself alone: Levanevskiy was recalled to Moscow to prepare for the long-distance trip to America via the North Pole.

After the assignment Gratsiansky and his crew ferried "C-43" to Moscow, where he was fitted with an auxiliary power generator and downloaded a set of spare parts and equipment for use in the North. July 16, 1937 amphibian was headed for Krasnoyarsk. However, due to a malfunction of the aircraft power supply, which because of sea water when transporting it across the ocean while flying in windy conditions, oxidized, had to make a landing on the Kama River near Sarapul. There when flying after the completion of the renovation, filmmakers immortalized them in the famous film.

August 12, 1937 newspapers and radio stations of the Soviet Union reported about a new flight over the North Pole with a crew of pilots under the command of Sigismund Levanevskiy on the new domestic four-engine plane "DB-A" designer Bolkhovitinov, board number N-209. A crew Gratsianskiy same day on "S-43" set off on its first flight to Dixon, tracking on the radio all posts info about Levanevskiy.

August 13 radiograma of Levanevskiy was made public that at 13:40 in a powerful cloud and strong headwind board N-209 flew over the pole. Then at 14:32 came another, that one of the engines has failed and that the flight is in the continuous cloud. The radiogram was ended by word: "Wait." More radio operator "DB-A" no one heard. The next day at the destination trip - the city of Fairbanks, Alaska - the plane did not arrive.

Soon, the newspapers reported that by the decision of the government of the USSR search for the missing board the H-209 was launched. Crew amphibian "C-43" under the direction of Alex Gratsianskogo became one of the main participants.

History of the airplane Levanevskogo search was described repeatedly. There are several versions and even speculation, including a pretty fantastic in his disappearance and subsequent fate. However, the fact remains that the government of the USSR, and the participants of searches done everything possible and even impossible to find and rescue the crew.

Till the beginning of the polar night six powerful jets "ANT-6" (TV-3) from Rudolf Island carried out the search , and from Franz Josef Land - two light aircraft "P-5". In the probable area of ​​the accident has been sent the icebreaker "Krasin" with the aircraft "P-5" and "U-2", which made overflights surrounding ice fields. In agreement with the American government flying boat "Dornier-Val", piloted by V.Zadkov and most suited for the work in these places amphibian Alexei Gratsianskiy performed exploratory flights from Cape Barrow, Alaska. In addition, searches were made by American pilots Wilkins, Crosson, Robins, Stewart and Mattern. Incidentally, the latter was obliged to Levanevskoiy his salvation during a forced landing in Chukotka, as mentioned above, but that he refused to searches after the first departure, stating the following: "Oh, the Arctic, terrible country! There's mountains of ice! Fly in the Arctic on the land machine - madness,
suicide! "The next day after the announcement American pilot left Alaska. However, this was an exception: the other pilots and sailors skill gave the salvation of the aircraft "USSR-H-209" all their strength and, and the Americans donated searchers all available resources at Cape Barrow.

The longest, until the end of October 1937, almost until the arrival of the polar night, the crew Alexey Gratsianskiy on "S-43" was looking for the plane of his friend Sigismund Levanevskiy. Weather on the routs all the time was very bad: high winds, frost, snow, fog. But the commander of the crew Gratsianskiy, Shtepenko navigator, radio operator Kozin, mechanics Krasnov and Pisarev managed to make six long-distance flights with in-flight refueling. They pumped fuel by the hand pump from the taken on board drums. In one of the flights they moved away from Cape Barrow by more than 1,000 kilometers.

Despite the fact that the radius of searches reached 77 degrees 30 minutes north latitude, it was all in vain: no trace of the aircraft or crew Levanevskogo tents or on ice floes of the Arctic Ocean, or in the Alaskan tundra was found. "A long way was passed - wrote about the expedition Gratsianskogo national newspapers. In flights from Sevastopol to Alaska and over the American Arctic crew Gratsianskiy cover more than 25 thousand kilometers." Eventually by radiogram from Moscow Gratsianskogo crew was ordered to return to their homeland.

New challenges

In 1938, the Soviet government ordered the General Directorate of the Northern Sea Route to direct the main effort of the polar aviation on the ice reconnaissance and assist in the maintenance of ships and the most remote areas of the Arctic.

Quite a bit of time has passed from the first in the history of the transition of the icebreaker "Siberians" northern sea route from the White to the Bering Sea during one navigation. The heroic epic rescue of the crew of the icebreaker "Cheliuskin" who tried and failed to repeat such a transition, was still living in the memory. But thanks to the polar aviation the North Pole was promptly conquered. Ship convoys went along the northern coast of the country under control of polar aviation. Of course, these transitions were carried out in the late spring, summer and early autumn, but for these latitudes, these seasons were and remain only partially warm. Therefore, in the way of sailors from time to time there were huge ice fields that had been to overpass by clean water, and to help pave the captains correctly routes such detours, the opportunity of aviation were used. Flying, of course, was made mainly by flying boats and float seaplanes for which it was easier to find a spot landing and takeoff.

However, work on these machines had its own peculiarities, which consisted not only in piloting, but also in control of the aircraft on the water. Many seaplanes were perished or severely damaged by a collision with fragments of ice, drift wood - half sunken logs, were torn from their anchors and broken on the beach during storms and squally winds, there were even cases when fast frozen ice crushed plane. In addition, most flights were carried out under unstable weather conditions and landings and overnight stays - mostly in a completely uninhabited places. In short, the work of the pilots, and made ​​the difficult and dangerous, given the conditions of the Arctic and the imperfection of the technology of navigation systems, required from them not only excellence, but also real courage.

Especially dangerous to fly in the spring, when navigation was just beginning, and not only the ocean, but also rivers and lakes are not completely cleared of ice, and in the autumn, when the navigation ended and water began to be covered with ice. And the routes the aircraft Gratsianskiy (at the time he flew with the crew on the twin-engine flying boat "Dornier-Val" H-237, with a maximum speed not exceeding 130 km / h) were shown in radiogram-order, which he received in 25 July 1939 from the chief of polar aviation Ilya Mazuruk: "Cape sterling, pilot Gratsianskiy. Make with the first weather reconnaissance along the route Sterlegov, Isachenko, Russian, Neupokoev, Geyberg, Bianchi with a landing on the Taimyr Peninsula. Use the last as permanent base. Next flight route Taimyr, island Makarov, Russian, Palander, Cheliuskin, on the southern shore of the Bolsheviks to Neupokoev, Bianchi, Taimyr. Confirm receiving. Mazuruk "...

Test Pilot in Times of Peace and War

After finishing the navigation about the results of ice reconnaissance in 1939, which the crew of the boat H- 237 has made, Hratsianskyj was instructed to report at the annual meeting of the polar pilots in Moscow. Polar pilots were invited to the meeting of the state leaders with the participants of heroic drift on the icebreaker " Georgij Sedov ". At this meeting the head of the aircraft factory № 22 in Fili Vasil Okulov, who knew not only about flying of Hratsianskyj in the Arctic, but also about his performance as a test pilot designer of the BC Kalinin, invited him to return to the testing activities on his enterprise. Despite the suddenness, the proposal met an internal demand of Olexij Mykolajovych to participate in the creation of new aviation technics, which at that time was rapidly developing. In two days Hratsianskyj agreed. So the next stage of his life began.

The first experimental car in testing and proof of which involved Olexij Hratsianskyj, was a dive bomber " Pe -2" designed by Vladimir Pyetlyakov. Actually, this car Hratsianskyj tested on a prototype to serial production. Another plane that he had to test in that years became a research dive speed bomber - fighter " WIT " (abbreviation from "Air tank destroyer"), developed in KB by Mycholaj Polikarpov.

The plane was outstanding for its characteristics at that time: speed 450 km / h and flight range of 1,000 km. But the high speed was disastrous for the new construction: in a mode close to the maximum, flutter occurred and the machine just fell apart in the air. It was built only five samples, on two of them test pilots died, and the pilot of the third - Olexij Hratsianskyj, escaped only through his own skill and physical strength fairly well. Soon, aerodynamic scientists and engineers have proposed methods and technical means to combat with this terrible thing, but "WIT" has not been finalized and didn't went in the series. Already using means of flutter overcoming, Hratsianskyj in 1940 had a trial of a new design of Andrij Tupolev and Olexander Archangelskyj - dive bomber " RW" (" Radiator wing " in the series, after a number of modifications, it was called " Ar- 2").

From the first days of the war Olexij Hratsianskyj daily spent testing the serial " Pe -2" and immediately overpassed them in the front part. They were flying to the west, as he later recalled, "with comfort and coming back - in a very dense packing": pilots were "stuffed" in one bomber and delivered to the plant. After the evacuation of the enterprises on the East, Hratsianskyj remained a test pilot in the newly formed on the basis of plant frontline aircraft repair workshops (FARM), that was carried out to repair and restore the state of combat bombers of all types. After the restoration and conducting of the appropriate tests, pilots overpassed the planes with full ammunition to the front airports. Repair work in the workshops conducted around the clock, proving vamped planes on the airfield - because of the danger of enemy air strikes - only at night, which is also added some complexity. However, after the six months of existence of the workshop it gave a new life to the damaged 274 bombers, i.e. the number of aircraft that could make some military units.

During the interruption of the test flight Olexij Hratsianskyj and his crew on a twin-engine transport aircraft " Li-2 " of Boris Lisunov construction has transferred the transportation of the critical loads to the siege of Leningrad. Flights were extremely dangerous: slow low-speed plane was equipped to protect only with the help of one gun " ShKAS ", performance characteristics of which, moreover, was much inferior to the German machine gun fighters. Therefore, flying at low altitudes to the ground, flying in the dark, in foggy weather. That's when Olexij Hratsianskyj needed handy skills acquired in the North flights in conditions of very poor visibility. In Leningrad carried medicines, food, missiles, then - defense production plants remaining in warehouses, bar silver from the Mint - an extremely important strategic material for the industry, and then the most precious cargo - children who do not have time to evacuate to a blockade of the city. Over ten years later, recalling those days, Olexij wrote: "very hard to believe that with this precious cargo, we have taken many successful flights, that only one our crew export to the east over a thousand kids..."

That was very dangerous missions. The plane fell under anti-aircraft fire and repeatedly avoided prosecution fighters. Once Hratsianskyj plane was shot down, but he managed to land the wounded car near the airport base. On another occasion, sitting on is not yet fully defused airfield, his " Li-2 " hit a mine: the back of the fuselage was terminated and only homemade armour that covered a chair, saved Hratsianskyj and the crew from the death under the rubble.

At the end of 1942 Hratsianskyj started to test and overpass directly to combat troops attack the aircraft of Sergij Ilyushin "IL -2" and " IL- 4". Subsequently, the plant № 23 formed on the territory of evacuated to the East plant № 22, began to produce "Tu -2" of Andrij Tupolev (also known as ANT- 58, NATO Codification "The Bat ") - the most perfect, according to the experts, Soviet bomber of World War II.

Hratsianskyj crew had to try and give a ticket to the front of almost five hundred Tupolev machines. Doing the hard work from the first to the last day of the war, the first days of peace Olexij Hratsianskyj met in Berlin...

Providing strategic balance in the "cold" war

World War II was over, but after it the confrontation between two ideological and political camps only worsened. Paradoxically, the fragile peace under these conditions would not resist if the opposition members did not produce every time sophisticated means of combat. To each new development of one party the opponent tried to give a symmetrical, and more often asymmetrical answer. Any violation of the parity in scientific and industrial component was threatened by escalation in the political, and then - in the military sphere. Attempts to negotiate suffered fiasco - no one wanted to give in the ideological principles. The world quickly became involved in a new war, which was firstly by journalists and later by policy named "cold".

Leading aircraft manufacturing company of two opposing camps, which until recently were allies, went to the hard competition in the production of next generation planes. Instead of turboprop aircraft aviation jet came quickly. The aviation industry urgent rebuilt, "on the go" pilots mastered new technology. At the forefront were, of course, test pilots who not only "taught to fly " new machines, but had to find the limits of new technology, identify the strengths and weaknesses of features, and finally, to take part in the development of detailed and clear regulations and instructions for Air Force pilots.

An important contribution to this cause made ​​Olexij Hratsianskyj.

Since 1946, to the development of a new jet bomber took Andrij Tupolev OKB. The plane was created on the base of the serial "Tu -2", but in a fundamentally new power plants and significantly modernized units and systems. Two experimental machines were built: one with foreign engines, in Tupolev KB, the second - with domestic engines RD- 45 designed by Volodymyr Klimov – on the aircraft factory № 23. The test flight of the first was conducted by Olexij Pereljot, of the second - by Olexij Hratsianskyj. It was a journey full of surprises, sometimes very dangerous. In one of the aircraft flights of Hratsianskyj two blades destroyed on the turbine engine. They like ammunition, flashed the fuselage and it was a miracle that none of the crew was not affected. Otherwise – because of the refusing of two pumps at the same time to pump fuel had to resort to emergency landing.

Translated by Iryna Dudik, LA-02

Therefore, they flew at low altitudes, in the dark, in foggy weather. That's when Alexey's Hratsianskyy skills of flights in conditions of very poor visibility, acquired in the North, were useful.Medicines, food, missiles were carried to Leningrad, from there - defense plants products, remaining in warehouses, bar silver from the Mint - an extremely important strategic material for the industry, and then the most precious cargo - children who weren't evacuated to a blockade of the city. Over ten years later, recalling those days, Alexey wrote: "It's very hard to believe that we have taken so many successful flights with this precious cargo, that only our crew carried to the East over a thousand of kids..."

These were very dangerous missions. The plane fell under anti-aircraft fire and repeatedly avoided prosecution fighters. Once Hratsianskyy's plane was shot down, but he managed to land the damaged aircraft near the base airfield. On another occasion, after landing on is not yet fully defused airfield, his "Li-2" tripped a mine: the back of the fuselage was destroyed and only homemade skirting that covered the chair back, saved Hratsianskyy and the crew from the death under shatters.

In the end of 1942 Hratsianskyy started testing and moving the attack aircraft of Sergei Ilyushin "IL-2" and "IL-4" directly to combat troops. Subsequently, the plant number 23 formed on the territory of plant number 22 evacuated to the East, began producing "Tu-2" of Andrey Tupolev (also known as ANT-58, NATO Codification "The Bat") - the most perfect, according to experts, Soviet bomber of World War II.

Hratsianskyy's crew had to test and give a ticket to the front to almost five hundred vehicles of Tupolev. Doing the hard work from the first to the last day of the war, the first days of peace Alex Hratsianskyy met in Berlin...

Providing strategic balance during the "cold" war

World War II was over, but after its finishing the confrontation between two ideological and political camps only worsened. Paradoxically, the fragile peace under those conditions would not have lasted if the opposition members hadn't not produced more sophisticated means of combat each time. The opponent tried to give to each new development a symmetrical, more often asymmetrical, answer. Any violation of parity in scientific and industrial components threatened by escalation in the political, and then - in the military sphere. Attempts to negotiate suffered fiasco - no one wanted to give up its ideological principles. The world quickly became involved in a new war, which was originally started by journalists, and soon named "cold " by politics.

Leading aircraft manufacturing company of two opposing camps, which until recently were allies, went to the hard competition in the production of next generation aircraft. The jet aviation quickly replaced turboprop one. There was an urgent rebuilt the aviation industry, and pilots mastered new technologies "on the go". At the forefront were, of course, test pilots who not only "taught to fly " new aircrafts, but had to find the limits of new technology, identify its areas of strengths and weakness, and finally, to take part in the development of detailed and clear regulations, etc. instructions for Air Force pilots.

An important contribution to this case was made ​​by Alexey Hratsianskyy.

Since 1946, Andrei's Tupolev OKB started the development of a new jet bomber. The aircraft was designed on the base of the serial "Tu -2", but for fundamentally new power plants and significantly modernized units and systems. Two experimental vehicles were being built : one with foreign engines, Tupolev, the second - with domestic engines RD- 45 designed by Vladimir Klimov - at an aircraft factory number 23. First test flight was conducted by Alexey Perelyot, the second one - by Alex Hratsianskyy. It was a journey full of surprises, sometimes very dangerous. During one of Hratsianskyy's two blades on the turbine engine broke. They, like shells, went through the fuselage and by miracle none of the crew was hurt. The rest - for refusing once the two pumps to pump fuel had to resort to emergency landing.

During another flight he had to resort to emergency landing because of stoppage of the work of pumps.

Engine testing at altitudes of 8-10 thousand meters in general was a test of strength not only for aircraft but for pilots. The thing was that the cabin of "Tu -12" has not been sealed, and flights at such altitudes under conditions of - 40 C and lack of oxygen were for Alexey Mykolajovych, his co-driver Nicholas Mykolajovych Neelov and two crew members extremely heavy. At these altitudes, the aircraft hadto fly 200 hours. However, due to urinary overload, having flown collectively about 20 hours, two crew members were forced to switch to other tasks. Therefore, the rest 180 hours were flownby Hratsianskyy and Neelov.

Those 180 hours almost forced Alexey Hratsianskyy early to say goodbye to the sky. After the end of the program, doctors strictly prohibited him to fly due to overload of the heart. And he, as in his younger years when he only dreamed of becoming a cadet of flying club, showed his character: a persistent and diligent two-month training, combined with the desire to return to the profession, eventually forced the doctors to give him permission to fly. Soon he drove a new experimental vehicle at altitudes of 16,000 feet, though already in a sealed cab.

In 1950, Alexey Hratsianskyy started working in the Flight Testing Institute (well known for Russian acronym " LII ") - the main organization, which carried out important work on the establishment of a domestic jet and turboprop aviation, and the development of near- supersonic speeds, research in the field of aviation. In those days there worked the best test pilots. Hratsianskyy, thanks to his experience, quickly became a recognised authority in that team in the testing of heavy vehicles - bombers, transport aircrafts and special aircrafts. He participated in overflights "flying fortress " " Tu- 4", of front twin-engine jet bomber "IL -28 ", of four- jet strategic bomber V. M'yasyscheva "M- 4" and its modifications "3M ", which was the pinnacle of contemporary engineering and operated in the Air Force from 1956 to 1994, and other aircrafts.

Alexey Mykolajovych also flew to test new equipment, to research it and make recommendations on its usage, and if necessary – to make constructive changes. It was the Hratsianskyy, who was the commander of the crew of the aircraft on which next to three serial piston engines experimental turboprop engine designed by M. Kuznetsova was installed. Engines of this type are still widely used in the transport and passenger aviation.

Particularly complex and demanding tasks were, when Hratsianskyy had to identify critical modes and limits of winged machines in order to develop the necessary algorithms of pilot actions in these modes. These tests at first sight seem fantastic. A striking example of this was a test flight on the "Tu -4" to the center of a huge storm cloud. Along the wings, fuselage, tail of plane were mounted sensors that were transferred to a recording device local information overload in different parts of the machine for further processing and evaluation of structural strength and making it necessary adjustments. This flight also was a success, although some aircraft designs suffered serious damage. However, this was neither the first nor the last situation that demanded from Alexey great courage, skill and maximum marginal discipline...

In 1955, "LII" Alexei Mykolajovych, without leaving his job, began to work as an the Inspector of division of the flight service of the aviation industry and taught at the Moscow Aviation Institute, but the main thing in his life was still working as a test pilot. In 1957, he was awarded the high title of Hero of the Soviet Union for the courage and heroism during testing of aircrafts.

Back in Kiev

In 1958, Alexey Hratsianskyy had to leave the helm at the request of doctors. During the time of flight operations, he mastered 49 types of aircraft, conducted of nineteen research and more than a thousand serial winged cars, so his body simply could not survive new neural and physical activities that accompany the work test pilot.

But the aircraft was not a profession for him, but a way of life. Changing of it meant finally submitting to unforeseen circumstances. But he never obeyed. And then an old friend in Crimea - General Designer of aviation equipment Oleg Konstantinovich Antonov came to the aid. He suggested Alexey Nikolayevich taking the post of his deputy from flight tests in the EDB in Kiev.

So Hratsianskyy returned to his native city.

This new phase of his professional career was just that and his previous life, full of worries, hard work and long trips. The team and technology base OKB Antonov increased, the rate of new aircraft pryshvydshuvalysya, and this, in turn, require an increase in flight testing. For a while, they provided pilots of other companies that was sent to Kyiv for targeted testing, but such cases the organization did not provide adequate quality. It was necessary to create an appropriate own service staff would know which research and, especially, serial car to the last screw and were full participants in the creation of a winged equipment.

For over 10 years Alex N. organizing the work of testing new designs Kiev aircraft manufacturers and serial machines. Simultaneously Hratsianskyy formed the backbone personnel Flight testing and demonstrative base (yes, the service was originally called) was looking for, and the construction and equipment of its own factory airfield Gostomel near Kyiv. The first aircraft, which he organized testing was airframe design ASTC "A- 13". Back to Kyiv, indeed, it was like returning to the youthful enthusiasm of the first heaven and motorless aircraft. Later, Alex N. for 10 years organized dwelling you all - new, modified and series which Antonov machines, including the world's first strategic military- transport aircraft AN- 22 " Antey".

Work Antonov Design Bureau gave Alexei Nikolayevich Hratsianskomu opportunity again to visit the places of his youth - in March 1961, he took part in one of the flights " AN- 12" on Severnaya Zemlya archipelago, with a cargo for polar explorers visited the village Amderma to Dixon. Subsequently flown to the Far East, the North Urals, Afghanistan.

Flight testing facility EDO ASTC Alex Hratsianskyy headed until 1968. Subsequently switched to the technical information was a member of the editorial board of the Main Information editions Union Institute of Scientific and Technical Information (VINITI), wrote a wonderful book of memories "Lessons of the North ", and significantly reworked and added to it - so the book " Among flew molnyy " (her copy of the inscription of the author and is in scientific and technical library "KPI "). He wrote essays and articles on the history of aviation, many of which were published in the collections of the Academy of Sciences " From history aviation and space", met with students and students did not forget his alma mater - Kyiv Polytechnic Institute.

In the native Kiev January 20, 1987 ended his glorious way of life...

M. Zgurovsky, Rector of NTUU "KPI", Academician of NAS of Ukraine


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