Russia's interest in the North Pole was driven by economic prospects and the opportunity for technological advancement. A northern sea route would allow passage of commercial and war ships, and would establish refueling and supply stations for ships and aircraft in remote areas. For navigation, meteorological stations were built providing better weather forecasting for northern Europe and Asia.
Weather, temperature, and reliance on aviation gauges were key elements in the first transpolar flight. Once over the Pole, the Chkalov crew encountered stormy, cold weather, throwing the ANT-25 off course and burning more fuel as they tried to fly above the storm. Baidukov, the co-pilot, and Chkalov slept in shifts as they manned the controls, while Belyakov, the navigator, took short naps to stay alert for navigation needs. Ice formed unevenly, endangering structural integrity and weighing down the aircraft. The higher they flew, the greater the crew's demand for oxygen. Baidukov prevailed by "flying blind" with instruments only. They were an excellent team. With Chkalov's steady guidance, Belyakov's expert navigation, and Baidukov's skills, they flew 5,288 miles through white skies and over unfamiliar territories. Through diplomatic arrangement, Russian and American meteorologists and radio operators communicated with the crew throughout the flight, though the fliers reported reception difficulties several times.
On the morning of June 20 in Vancouver, Washington, people were dressing for church, milkmen were beginning their deliveries, and the commanding general of the US Army's Department of the Columbia was sipping coffee in a beautiful house on Officers' Row. No one realized the magnitude of the aerial achievement that was about to unfold at Pearson Field.
In a huge, glider-like airplane above Eugene, Oregon, Valery Chkalov and his crew realized they were running out of fuel and would not make it to Oakland, California, as planned. Chkalov told his copilot, Georgi Baidukov, to turn the ANT-25 back towards Portland. Droplets of rain glistened on Baidukov's face as he leaned out the cockpit window. "I need the detailed map," he shouted to navigator Alexander Belyakov. "That's it," Chkalov whispered a short time later, as he gazed at photos of American airports and recognized the bridges and factories below.
AMERICA! Sixty-three hours and sixteen minutes from the time they left Moscow, the world's first transpolar flight landed safely at Pearson Field. This dangerous, fantastic flight matched the glitz and glamour of Earhart and Lindbergh, but few in America would realize its lasting impact. Three men endured incredible cold, hazards, exhaustion, and a lack of oxygen to fly over the North Pole, setting world records in the process.