Local pilot to make commemorative flight to Russia
By Jack Kintner
Blaine native and aviation enthusiast Jeff Geer plans to commemorate the WWII Lend Lease program by flying an open cockpit biplane 6,000 miles from here to Russia and back next summer.
The aircraft is old – it’s a Stearman PT 13D built 65 years ago at the Boeing aircraft plant in Wichita, Kansas – but there’s a modern touch.
Onboard satellite communications will allow middle and high school students to track his progress. Some will even be able to make the flight along with Geer using a Microsoft Flight Simulator whose instrument panel readings and terrain display will mimic those Geer sees in real time.
The access that this technology provides give the expedition an educational side.
Geer is developing math, science, history and even music curricula based on the trip with educators from the Mossyrock, Washington school district. Once developed, materials will be made available for free to other districts who want to integrate it into their classroom studies.
He said that once he gets to Russia he’s been advised to “crate the thing up and ship it home” but he instead hopes to be able to fly it all the way back, modifying his route at the end to make his last Canadian stop at the Abbotsford Airshow.
Geer said that his flight path will commemorate the northern or Alaska to Siberia (ALSIB) route over which bomber, fighter and transport aircraft were delivered to the Russian allies during WWII. It runs from Great Falls, Montana, the staging base for the Lend Lease flights, north to Alberta and into northern B.C. along the Alaska Highway to the Yukon, Fairbanks, Nome and ultimately to Provideniya, Russia.
The last leg, a 255-mile route from Nome to Provideniya, is designated Air Route B-369 (BRAVO-369) and is also the name Geer chose for his non-profit foundation that’s sponsoring the trip. After crossing the International Date Line in the middle of the Bering Sea, he will then be the first pilot to have flown on this route to Provideniya from the lower 48 States in a Stearman. His impressively informative website is www.bravo369.org
Significantly, most of the pilots in the Air Transport Command who ferried over 15,000 airplanes to Russia alone during WWII also flew Stearmans identical to Geer’s as their first or primary military trainer. The airplane’s 225 horsepower 9-cylinder Lycoming radial engine gives it a cruise speed of about 105 mph.
In WWII the ALSIB route ran northwest from Great Falls, Montana, to Fairbanks, where the Russian pilots took over. It was developed in 1942 when the earlier supply routes that used surface ship transport or flew east through the heat and dust of North Africa proved either too dangerous or too damaging to the aircraft.
Geer’s website says that before aircraft and defense materials could be ferried to Alaska, roads and intermediate airfields had to be built. Over 10,000 U.S. Army officers and men and 2,000 U.S. Public Roads Administration civilians, working under Northwest Service Command (NWSC), completed the project in six months. The Alcan Highway was officially opened on November 20, 1942, by which time the delivery route was already up and operational.