Conan Doyle was not the only contributor to “The Other World.” Big things were happening in Russian aviation during the 1930s. In 1936, an ANT-25 (named for designer Andrie N. Tupolov) flew from Moscow to Kamchatka across the frozen Siberian tundra. Pilots Valery Chkalov and George Biadukov, accompanied by Alexander Beliakov, who served as navigator, flew for 63 hours over the frozen wastes.
Joseph Stalin himself had chosen this aircrew to represent the Soviet Union before the world. The men took off on June 18, 1937 in their single engine plane from Moscow in the USSR for Oakland, California. Nearly three days later, after a nonstop flight across the North Pole, the crew landed at a US Army airfield in Vancouver, Washington on June 20. It was an amazing feat. They had flown 5,507 miles in 62.5 hours without stopping.
A month later, Russia sent a new aircrew aloft for another over-the-pole flight to America. The pilot, Mikhail Gromov flew all the way to San Diego but had to turn back because of fog. He landed at San Jacinto, California. It was a new long distance record for a nonstop flight – 6,262 miles in 62 hours. Inspection of the fuel tanks later showed the craft had a scant 15 to 17 gallons of fuel left. The plane had only a few minutes flying time left before landing. It was a new long distance record for a nonstop flight. California welcomed the heroes with open arms. The aviators were instant celebrities.
Then the Russians go for broke. In a daring move, they announce plans to fly an ANT-4 from Moscow to New York City with a stop in Fairbanks, Alaska. Unlike the ANT-25, which was a single engine craft, this ship was a massive four-engine bomber. Pilot Sigizmund Levanevsky had been called the Russian Lindbergh and was in charge of the mission. Levanevsky was a popular man in America and for good reason. In 1933, American pilot James Mattern had attempted to fly around the world only to crash in Siberia. Levanevsky had been his rescuer.
The ANT-4 left on August 12, 1937, witnessed by a group of reporters from the west that had been allowed to view the historic take-off. Somewhere 300 miles south of the North Pole, the crew of the huge plane radioed that they were experiencing engine trouble. Then a second message came indicating the plane was landing. Dramatically, in mid-message, radio contact broke off abruptly.
A rescue mission was quickly launched to find the missing aviators. Men, planes, and ships from three countries, Russia, Canada, and America, sought out the castaways. James Mattern joined the hunt hoping to repay a debt to the lost pilot. Anxious citizens on two continents nervously awaited news of the search. Alas, after seven months of searching, no trace of the six men or their aircraft was ever found.
The August 15, 1937 issue of the Reading Eagle reported army listeners were picking up radio signals from the fliers. A rescue mission was quickly launched to find the missing aviators. Men, planes, and ships from three countries, Russia, Canada, and America, sought out the castaways. James Mattern joined the hunt hoping to repay a debt to the lost pilot. Anxious citizens on two continents nervously awaited news of the search. Famed explorer Sir Hubert Wilkens joined the search. Alas, after seven months of searching, no trace of the six men or their aircraft was ever found.
The May 3, 1938 edition of the Alaska Miner of Fairbanks, Alaska carried an article reporting the crash of a large object off Thetis Island on August 17, 1937 as reported by local residents. A local trader reported finding oil on the water in the location described by the natives.
Two years later, Lester Dent submits a Doc Savage story to Street & Smith. In “The Other World,” Dent likely created a composite of these missing Russian airmen in the person of the lost Russian aviator, Veselich Vengarinotskovi who called himself Decimo Tercio in the novel. The name means thirteen in Spanish. It is no accident. The three transpolar flights were made by a total twelve men. Dent’s Soviet flier was the thirteenth flier. The second transpolar flight ended in a farmer’s field when fuel ran low. Dent landed his pilot in a farmer’s field. Later in the story Doc Savage probes the fuel tanks and judges them nearly empty.
The Twelve Russian Polar Aviators:
- Valaory Chkalov
- George Biadukov
- Alexander Beliakov
- Mikhail Gromov
- A. B. Yumashev
- S. A. Danilin
- Sigizmund Levanevsky
- Crewman 1
- Crewman 2
- Crewman 3
- Crewman 4
- Crewman 5
- Decimo Tercia
Hope springs eternal goes the saying. While events do not always enjoy auspicious circumstances in the real world, the pulp fiction universe is not so constrained. There, great heroes are often reincarnated under an alias to enjoy eternal life within the warm bosom of affectionate readers.