Planes make friendship flight to Provideniya
The Alaska Airmen Association recently made a friendship flight from Nome to Provideniya, Russia in the interest of keeping the Bravo 369 civil aviation route open between the two cities.
While travel between Alaska and Chukotka has become more complicated and consequently less common, the route still exists. Bravo 369 originated as the Alaska to Siberia route lend-lease aircraft took during WWII. The leg from Nome to Provideniya was part of the journey between Montana and Krasnoyarsk. Over 8,000 aircraft were ferried to the Soviet Union over this route.
“Originally we had six planes and eleven people,” said friendship flight organizer Tandy Wallack. “We started on June 23 but the weather went down for two weeks. Some people just couldn’t wait with work schedules and whatever. But two pilots did go and we had six people.”
The plan was to fly over and in addition to meeting with local dignitaries speak to school kids about small plane aviation and becoming pilots. Like their counterparts in Alaska, students in Chukotka spend a lot of time in small planes. They were enthusiastic about becoming pilots and asked good questions. “So we’re working on next year how we can maybe make that happen with kids,” said Wallack. “In Soviet times they used to have a pilot program for young people to become pilots. They don’t have that anymore. So we would like to work with them to encourage young people to become pilots. They need pilots over there for their small aviation, too.”
The two planes, which made the trip from Nome to Provideniya were a Cessna 185 and a Cirrus. Wallack works at Circumpolar Expeditions in Anchorage and is experienced at arranging the complicated visas and permits necessary to travel to Russia. She said because she’s familiar with the process she was able to get it done in 60 days, the typical lead time needed for a trip across the Bering Strait. She said that tourists and adventurers come to Alaska and when they see how close Chukotka is they want to take a trip over to see it. But the bureaucracy and the necessary lead time rule that out. “We used to do these three day tours over to Chukotka with Bering Air,” she said. “And we’d do them once a week all summer long. That was wonderful for tourists to be able to go for three days and then come back. On those flights if there were extra seats Bering Air would bring Natives back and forth for a special fare. But then things got complicated. More rules happened and then the political situation between our two countries started to decline.”
Family connections between Inupiaq and Yupik people on both sides of the Bering Strait have been strained by the difficulty of travel. There is no real geographic barrier, just political obstacles. The Inupiaq from Big Diomede were moved to coastal villages and the island is now a military base. Periodic efforts to bring the families together have strengthened ties but easier travel would help. Wallack is hoping a rule allowing 72 hours visa free visits to the other side will be implemented.