The Soviet Air Force: Stalin's Falcons

John Etty shows the vital importance of aviation in the Stalinist Soviet Union.

At one point during the 1930s, Soviet aviators concurrently held 62 world aviation records. These men and women, dubbed ‘Stalin’s Falcons’ by the state-controlled media in the USSR, performed heroic feats in the name of the Soviet motherland and received the grateful plaudits of Stalin and the Central Committee. Indeed, Stalin and his colleagues supervised the efforts of the Soviet Union’s aviators so closely that these ‘Falcons’ themselves became a part of the Cult of Stalin. Moreover, they and their achievements fed into all of the key themes of the Stalinist 1930s.

Soviet Aviation before Stalin

Flight is a crucial theme in Russian cultural history. Russia even has its own Icarus myth, with different versions ascribing the events to the reigns of different tsars. A boastful serf was promised his freedom if he could fulfill his claim to be able to fly on home-made wings.

According to two separate accounts, Ivan the Terrible had the ambitious serf beheaded, while Peter the Great was satisfied simply with having the man beaten. Regardless of the serfs’ failures to fly, these legends led Russians to believe in their preeminence in the field of aviation. Other stories, about Russian balloonists and Russian powered aircraft, perpetuated the notion that Russia was the home of human flight.

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