“It taxis along the ground with all the ease of an arthritic stork,” Or, A brief look at the brief presence at British Columbia’s Centennial air show of an Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-104 jet-powered airliner, part 2
Welcome back, my reading friend. And no, you did not have to wait a full week to renew your acquaintanceship with a certain example of a certain type of Soviet airliner. If I may paraphrase the great Sherlock Holmes, the flight is afoot. Let us recapitulate. Invited to take part in a 1958 air show commemorating the centennial of British Columbia, the government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) agreed to send a Tupolev Tu-104 jet-powered airliner operated by Aeroflot to Vancouver, British Columbia.
That Tu-104 left Moscow, USSR, on 11 June 1958 and made its way across Western Europe under the watchful eyers of North Atlantic Treaty Organization radar operators. It apparently carried 2 flight crews of 4 people (2 pilots, 2 co-pilots, 2 flight engineers and 2 navigators) headed by pilot Ivan I. Frolov, as well as 2 flight attendants.
When it left Keflavíkurflugvelli, in other words Keflavik airport, in Iceland, the aircraft also carried a trio of Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) officers:
- Flying Officer Richard T. “Dick” Brown, who helped with navigation,
- Flight Lieutenant William B. “Bill” Carss, who helped with various piloting details, and
- Squadron Leader William Kereliuk, who helped with translation.
Mind you, Kereliuk might also have kept an eye and ear open for anything interesting. You see, he might have been an air intelligence officer described in the press as a Russian language instructor at a three service (RCAF, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Navy) language school. And yes, Kereliuk was a Canadian of Ukrainian origin.
Interestingly, both Brown and Carss knew each other. They served in the same RCAF squadron and had flown aboard the same aircraft type, namely the de Havilland Comet jet powered transport plane. Incidentally, did you know that the nose of one of the two Comets operated by the RCAF can be found in the world class collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario? You did? Good for you.
Three of the passengers of Aeroflot’s Tupolev Tu-104 during its trans-Canada flight to Vancouver, British Columbia, strike a pose with a crew member of the aircraft, probably its chief pilot, Ivan I. Frolov. From left to right: John Russell Taylor, Member of Parliament; Pyotr Fyodorovich Strunnikov, counsellor at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa; Ivan. I. Frolov, I think; and Arthur Ryan Smith, Junior, Member of Parliament. Anon., “Des réactés soviétiques au Canada? – La CPA s’intéresse au TU-114.” Le Petit Journal, 29 June 1958, 47.
The Tu-104 landed at Gander, Newfoundland, and flew on to Ottawa. Its flight to the national capital was delayed by several hours, however, by an undisclosed technical issue. In any event, the Tu-104 landed in Ottawa, at Uplands Airport, where a mix up in refuelling arrangements caused an additional delay. You see, the ground crew at the airport had loaded only one fuel truck, not two.
Incidentally, the RCAF put up quite a show as the crew of the Soviet airliner stood there with open mouths – and as a handful of RCAF officers wearing civilian clothes hidden among the 400 or so real civilians present watched the proceedings. The Canadian armed forces were not attempting to overawe their Soviet guests. Of course. The Avro Canada CF-100 all weather fighter aircraft, the Lockheed / Canadair Silver Star advanced training aircraft and the North American / Canadair Sabre day fighter aircraft which roared overhead were only rehearsing the maneuvers they would repeat over RCAF Station Rockcliffe, on the outskirts of Ottawa, on Air Force Day, which happened to be the following day. Of course.
And yes, the world famous Canada Aviation and Space Museum is located on the site of that very station, now closed, but I digress.
The Soviet airliner flew on to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, with 10 or so Canadian journalists and four Members of Parliament on board. A few people from the Soviet embassy in Ottawa were present as well, including, it seemed, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the USSR, Dmitry Stepanovich Chuvakhin, and a counsellor at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa, Pyotr Fyodorovich Strunnikov.
Before I forget, the Members of Parliament were John Russell Taylor and Arthur Ryan Smith, Junior, two federal government backbenchers from British Columbia and Alberta, as well as Erhart Regier and Frank Howard, two opposition backbenchers from British Colombia. Interestingly, neither Regier not Howard were members of the official opposition. And no, this was not an act of vindictiveness on the part of the government put in power as a result of the landslide general election of March 1958. Nay. You see, Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition had elected a single individual west of Ontario, Mervyn Arthur Hardie, who represented the Northwest Territories and Yukon Territory. Party leaders and their minions did not behave like their 2023 counterparts back then. They had class. Sorry, sorry.
One of the journalists who flew from Ottawa to Vancouver aboard the Soviet airliner was none other than Charles F.M. “Charlie” King. To quote that gentleman we came across in a May 2023 issue of our astonishing blog / bulletin / thingee, “To heck with superstition – I’m going riding in a Russian jet on Friday the 13th.” Better yet, or worse still, your choice, King was allegedly placed, unless he actually asked to sit, in seat number 13. I kid you not.
King’s answer to the father of all questions, “What is it like to fly in the Russian jet?,” was / is worth quoting in full, well almost:
It’s like taking off into the air in a hundred locomotives. The noise then is nothing short of catclysmic [sic]. Once in the air, the jet engines calm to a continuous rushing roar, almost inaudible in the forward part of the cabin, but a continuous din when seated to the rear.
A lot of the Russian character has been built into the aircraft. It flies rigidly, even stiffly (there’s no flexing in these wings), and landings on tires carrying [10.55 kilogrammes/square centimetre] 150 pounds[/square inch] pressure are spine-jolting slam-downs. It taxis along the ground with all the ease of an arthritic stork.
But it’s all airplane, and a good one, and the Russians have full reason to be proud of it.
King stated that the overall look of the cabin of the Tu-104, solid, heavy and dull, brought to mind the accommodations of the island ferries operated in British Columbia by a division of Canadian Pacific Railway Company Limited of Montréal, Québec. The upholstery materials of the seats seemed shoddy.
Despite their stern and unsmiling faces, the Soviet crew treated their Canadian guests with courtesy. The latter soon realised how tired their hosts were. Even so, the flight attendants, Alla L. Omelchenkova and Valentina Korchagina, plied their guests with bread, candy, dill cucumbers, boiled eggs, oranges, sandwiches, sausages and vodka. This had taken some effort and improvisation on their part. They had not expected to have so many Canadian passengers, you see, and were deeply apologetic for the menu offered and the delay in serving it.
In any event, the Tu-104 landed at Saskatoon several hours later than expected, to the chagrin of the hundreds of people who had gathered at the airport at the expected time in order to see it.
The passengers and crew had to wait several minutes before they could disembark to stretch their legs. You see, the mobile stairway brought by the ground crew did not reach the door of the long legged Tu-104. A step ladder had to be brought in – and used with some caution, atop the mobile stairway. In any event, a mix up in refuelling arrangements caused an additional delay. And yes, the ground crew at the airport had loaded only one fuel truck, not two.
One or more Canadian journalists boarded the Tu-104 in Saskatoon. One of them was Ronald Charles “Ron” Thornber. Sadly for him, he wore a beard. Yours truly does not have to tell you, but will do so anyway, that bearded male Homo sapiens were not a common sight during the 1950s in North America.
A beard was deemed to be a sign of universalism, revisionism, progressivism, intellectualism, humanitarianism, fraternalism, egalitarianism, cosmopolitanism, bohemianism, activism and various other isms, including perhaps communism, which brought Thornber to the brooding and suspicious scrutiny of the dozen or so plainclothes clever boys of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) who had infiltrated the crowded waiting room at the airport. One of them took out a miniature camera to photograph him. Twice. Another one followed the journalist when he had to go to the washroom, and… Nay, the oh, so subtle spook did not cross the threshold of the little boys’ room. Someone seemingly searched Thornber’s luggage, however. I kid you not.
The closely shaved spooks obviously did not know that pogonotrophy was experiencing a tad of a renaissance in the late 1950s. Celebrities like Robert John Wagner, Junior, Elvis Aaron Presley, Eldred Gregory Peck and Thomas Sean Connery sported well trimmed facial hair for at least some time around that time. I kid you not. Indeed, a beard was one of the distinguishing features of Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives, a distinguished American musician, author and actor, and of an American author and journalist by the name of Ernest Miller “Papa” Hemingway. And also of a Cuban revolutionary who had yet to become a dictator, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz.
You will of course recall that Connery was mentioned in a September 2018 issue of our unforgettable blog / bulletin / thingee. Incidentally, Presley was mentioned in that same issue. He was also mentioned in issues which came out in April and June 2022. Castro, on the other hand, was mentioned once in our you know what, in August 2018.
Yours truly succumbed to pogonotrophy during the summer of 1983, in Saskatchewan oddly enough, but not in Saskatoon. Nay. I succumbed in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, while working at Fort Walsh National Historic Site. My parents and brother were quite surprised when I got home. Mind you, the deep farmer’s tan probably did not help either.
Anyway, Thornber was allowed to take his seat aboard the Tu-104, but only after proving he was really the person he claimed to be, of course.
Ahh, the 1950s, the good old days, when closely shaved straight white “Father knows best” men ruled the world and every other Homo sapiens bowed low as one of these gifts to humankind walked by, but I digress.
Interestingly, the presence of the Tu-104 in Saskatoon was the subject of an editorial cartoon in the city’s one and only daily newspaper, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. Edmund Alexander Sebestyen, one of the great Canadian cartoonists of the age, gently poked fun at the RCAF and the aircraft that Saskatonians would see on 14 June, Air Force Day. By the way, the caption of said drawing read as follows: “No offense, Buster, but would you mind getting this ruddy thing out of here.”
An editorial cartoon by Saskatoon Star-Phoenix cartoonist Edmund Alexander Sebestyen which contrasted Aeroflot’s Tupolev Tu-104 jet-powered airliner with the Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft that Saskatonians would see on 14 June 1958, Air Force Day. Edmund Alexander Sebestyen, “No offense, Buster, but would you mind getting this ruddy thing out of here.” Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 14 June 1958, 19.
After leaving Saskatoon, the Tu-104 flew on to Vancouver, err, to Richmond, British Columbia actually, where it arrived, on 13 June, late in the evening, just in time for the Centennial air show. And no, the crew of the aircraft had not spent a whole lot of time outside of it between their first take off, near Moscow, and their final landing, in Richmond, 27 or so hours later.
Initially very serious and somewhat apprehensive, an apprehension possibly reinforced by the number of RCMP constables present at the airport, to keep protestors at bay, the pretty darn tired Soviet crew seemingly did not mellow a whole lot when confronted by the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, Frank Mackenzie Ross, the mayor of Vancouver, Frederick John “Fred” Hume, and a welcoming committee headed by the President of Canadian Pacific Airlines Limited of Vancouver, George William Grant McConachie.
Kept at bay by RCMP constables, 5 000 or so Vancouverites offered the crew of the Tu-104 a restrained yet friendly reception. There were few cheers and some boos, for example. The people who were shouting quickly grew quiet, however, when RCMP constables on motorcycles rushed toward them, to silence them. Seeing that, the Soviet crew might have felt right at home.
Whether or not some of the booing came from 100 or so Hungarian Canadians who carried signs was not clear. These people had very good reasons to feel angry. You see, in October 1956, countless Hungarians had risen against the oppressive government of the Magyar Népköztársaság, the country’s communist party, and its policies. Overwhelmed by what was taking place, that government asked its Soviet counterpart for assistance. The Soviet forces stationed in Hungary leapt into action. More soldiers soon poured across the border.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 / Hungarian Upraising of 1956 came to a bloody end in early November, 12 days after it had begun. No less than 2 500 or so Hungarians had been killed and a further 20 000 or so wounded. Something like 22 000 individuals later went to jail. Worse still, 250 to 350 individuals were executed. Between 200 000 and 250 000 Hungarians fled their homes and native land. Approximately 37 500 of there refugees found a home, in Canada, on native land, if yours truly may paraphrase the version of the national anthem Oh Canada sung in February 2023 by Canadian songwriter / singer / actor Jully Black, born Jullyann Inderia Gordon Black, but back to the protest at Vancouver’s airport.
Homemade anti-Soviet signs (Freedom for all, Gome home Russkys, etc.) carried by a handful of young men described as unkept were grabbed and torn off, seemingly by people in the crowd – or plainclothes members of the RCMP. Some tense moments ensued but there was no fighting. And long live democracy.
The Tu-104’s chief pilot, the aforementioned Frolov, a veteran with 16 000 hours of flying time under his belt, gracefully accepted a centennial plaque on behalf of his crew from Harold J. Merrilees, the Centennial committee chairperson in Vancouver and a public relations executive in every day life.
As was said (typed?) above, said crew included a duo of female flight attendants. One of them, the aforementioned Omelchenkova, was relatively fluent in English. The other one, the equally aforementioned Korchagina, was relatively fluent in French, which… Sorry, sorry, yours truly was about to say (type?) something mildly sarcastic about the French language service offered by a major Canadian airline which shall remain nameless. Still, one had / has to be impressed by the fact that, in 1958, someone at Aeroflot actually made sure that a French speaking flight attendant would be present aboard the Tu-104. And no, none of the other members of the Soviet crews seemingly spoke a word of English or French.
Interestingly, Korchagina apparently got a chance to practice her French. You see, there was apparently a francophone Canadian journalist aboard during the transcontinental flight. That individual was none other than Françoise Côté, one of the few female journalists in Québec and one of the few female freelance journalists in Canada. Côté was in all likelihood the only female journalist aboard the Tu-104. Oddly enough, the article she published in the 29 June 1958 edition of the Montréal weekly newspapers Le Petit Journal, did not mention Korchagina.
In any event, on 14 June, Frolov spent some time with some fellow crew members examining the Vulcans on display. They themselves were probably under constant examination by plainclothes members of the RCMP, and they probably knew it. The Cold War was really a jokey time. And yes, it was likely that the crew of the Tu-104 examined other aircraft besides the Vulcans. It would have been… logical for them to do so. Sorry, sorry. Yours truly could not let that opportunity fly by without grabbing it with both hands.
Interestingly, Frolov and his crew were approached by a great many Canadians of Russian (and / or Ukrainian?) origin during their presence at the airport. Initially concerned, they soon realised that these people were friendly. They gracefully accepted the presents and flowers offered to them, and chatted with them about various topics of mutual interest without being bothered by the constables of the RCMP present on the site.
Interestingly, Frolov was invited to join a group of 50 or so North American journalists and officials for a brief flight aboard the Boeing Model 707 present at the air show, an as yet undelivered machine ordered by Pan American World Airways Incorporated. Better yet, the Soviet pilot was invited to take the controls of the aircraft as the intercom played Around the World, the theme tune of the very popular 1956 American epic adventure / comedy film Around the World in 80 Days, based on the classic 1873 novel by the world-famous French novelist Jules Gabriel Verne, a gentleman mentioned in many issues of our stunning blog / bulletin / thingee, and this since June 2018.
The choice of music was by no means accidental. Nay, it was most certainly not. Boeing Airplane Company, an American firm which needs no introduction, a firm mentioned in several / many issues of our tremendous blog / bulletin / thingee since November 2017, was pleased to point out that its new machine would be able to carry passengers around the world in 40 hours, with a few refuelling stops along the way of course, but back to Frolov.
The Soviet pilot was impressed – and said so. The controls of the new American airliner were surprisingly light. A single pilot could control it with ease.
History did not record what Frolov thought of a certain maneuver performed during that flight by Alvin Melvin “Tex” Johnston, a Boeing test pilot.
What did Johnston do, you ask, my worried reading friend? Well, he banked the Model 707 as if it was a fighter plane. He did so with such a deft hand, however, that people could remain standing in the aisle. He then rapidly reduced and increased power, and speed. And that was not all. While cruising at high altitude, Johnston greatly cut power to the four engines of the Model 707, deployed the flaps and lowered the undercarriage. I kid you not. The aircraft fell from 10 650 metres (35 000 feet) to 4 550 metres (15 000 feet) in 2 or so minutes. Johnston then retracted the undercarriage and flaps, and increased power to the engines. One hoped that the passengers and officials had received a warning.
And yes, Johnston was the pilot who had performed not one but two barrel rolls, at fairly low level, over Lake Washington, near Seattle, Washington, in August 1955, while demonstrating the brand new Boeing Model 367, the one off direct predecessor of the Model 707.
What exactly is a barrel roll, you ask? Well, try to imagine a 39 metre (128 feet) long jet-powered airliner flying in a horizontal corkscrew trajectory around the line of its direction of travel. Yee haw!
Asked to explain himself, an unperturbed Johnston stated that he was selling aircraft. He kept his job and was not bothered by the Civil Aeronautics Administration, the organisation with powers to regulate all aspects of civilian aviation in the United States, an organisation mentioned many times since June 2018 in our awe inspiring blog / bulletin / thingee.
And yes, Johnston was invited aboard the Tu-104, as was the aforementioned Kereliuk, who once again played the role of interpreter – and intelligence officer. A number of Canadian (and American?) journalists and officials also came on board. For some reason or other, the air conditioning system was not turned on, an omission which soon turned the aircraft into a steam bath.
Frolov did not offer Johnston the chance to fly the Tu-104, however. The American pilot was not familiar with that aircraft and did not speak Russian, he claimed. Some people hinted that the reason behind Frolov’s polite position was quite different.
You see, a planned flight between Vancouver and Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, had to be cancelled when the United States Air Force (USAF) politely refused to state that its fighter aircraft would not politely order the crew of the Tu-104 to land on American soil if it strayed in the least into American air space, in other words if the aircraft flew over the San Juan Islands. Unwilling to get in trouble by attempting to thread his way along the Canada-United States border, Frolov limited his aerial escapade to the area around Vancouver.
Given the lack of cooperation expressed by the USAF, some people thought that Frolov might have been annoyed enough to keep Johnston away from the controls of the Tu-104.
This being said (typed?), Frolov knew from recent experience that the Model 707 was a lot easier to fly than the Tu-104, an aircraft which apparently needed two experienced pairs of hands at the controls at all time. In any emergency, Johnston would not have known what to do and would not have understood Frolov’s instructions, but back to our main story and…
Did Kereliuk join Frolov aboard the Model 707, you ask, my reading friend? Err, have you not read the previous paragraphs, my eagle eyed reading friend? Yes, he was aboard, as were Frederick Maurice McGregor, chairperson of the civil aviation section of the Centennial air show, and the aforementioned McConachie.
Eager to improve the coverage of the event, McGregor asked before liftoff that someone contact local radio and television stations so that they could inform the good people of Victoria that the Tu-104 would soon be overhead. He even suggested that the Premier of British Columbia, William Andrew Cecil “Cece / Wacky” Bennett, be contacted. McGregor put out these suggestions because, like all other passengers of the Soviet airliner, he did not know that Frolov had decided to stay away from Victoria. The Soviet pilot gave them the bad news only after takeoff.
Incidentally, Johnston was not all that impressed by the Tu-104. Indeed, after the flight, he stated to the press that he believed that the Soviet airliner was obsolete. Would you believe that the American test pilot allegedly asked the navigator of the Soviet airliner to convey a message to Frolov? And here is the message: “Please tell him that in my 21 000 hours of piloting time the Tupolev 104 is the sorriest damn airplane I have ever had the misfortune of flying in.” Ow…
Would you like to see (read?) another Tupolev related Johnstonism? No? No matter. I am the one typing this. As he walked toward the cockpit of the Tu-104, Johnston noticed the small curtains with ball fringes which adorned all the windows. The American allegedly, I repeat allegedly, quipped to one of his fellow American that, and I quote, “This reminds me of a Klondike wh*r*h**s*.” Sorry, sorry.
Incidentally, one had / has to wonder how Johnston could have familiarised himself with the interior decoration of a typical 1890s and 1900s Klondike wh*r*h**s*. That American pilot born in August 1914 never set foot in the Klondike region of the Yukon Territory. Who knows, he might have seen the 1953 Technicolor and 3-D musical western American motion picture Those Redheads from Seattle, Seattle being of course the city where one could find the factory of Boeing Airplane, but I digress.
Interestingly, the gentleman who wrote a two page piece for the Canadian monthly magazine Canadian Aviation, namely Robert Francis, pointed out that the cabin of the Soviet airliner, with its brass railed nets for small pieces of luggage, reminded him of an 1890s drawing room, but I digress. Again.
All in all, up to 100 000 people attended the Centennial air show, on Sunday, 15 June. Another 20 000 had attended Air Force Day, the previous day. That was very good for a two-day event given the size of the population of Vancouver (600 000 or so) and British Colombia (1 500 000 or so) at the time.
Some of the tens of thousands of people who crowded around Aeroflot’s Tupolev Tu-104 airliner during the Centennial air show, held at Vancouver International Airport, Richmond, British Columbia. Ron Thornber, “U.S., Russian Jets Can’t Be Compared.” The Vancouver Sun, 16 June 1958, 3.
The stars of the Centennial air show held at Vancouver International Airport: the Boeing Model 707, in the foreground, and, even more so, the Tupolev Tu-104, Richmond, British Columbia. Anon., “Air Transport – Boeing 707, Soviet Tu-104 Displayed at Vancouver.” Aviation Week Including Space Technology, 23 June 1958, 31.
The Model 707 and, even more so, the Tu-104 were the most popular attractions of the Centennial air show. The hundreds of people who walked down the aisle of the visitor from far, far away (Hello, Shrek! Hello, Princess Fiona!) were simply thrilled. Not so thrilled were the people who had gone to the airport specifically to see the Tu-104 but found themselves unable to get in because of the long line up. The people who had come on 14 June, on Air Force Day, were especially disappointed because the aircraft was not accessible at all.
A few people seemed to pay attention to the French-designed but British-made SPAD S.VII fighter plane dating from the First World War on display during the Centennial air show. And here it is…
The old and the new: the SPAD S.VII fighter plane reproduction / replica owned by James B. Petty of Gastonia, North Carolina, and the Tupolev Tu-104 airliner operated by Aeroflot, Vancouver International Airport, Richmond, British Columbia. Anon., “news digest.” Canadian Aviation, August 1958, 67.
Incidentally, Air Force Day was deemed to be a tad disappointing. It was little more than a routine show. There was not a whole lot of flying and virtually no aerobatics.
The American team which had come to Vancouver aboard the Model 707 was quite surprised, and a tad miffed perhaps, by the popularity of the Soviet airliner, a flying machine that the good people of Vancouver might have been intrigued by, given its origin and the likelihood that they would never see one again from up close. And yes, that American realisation and Frolov’s polite refusal to let him play with the controls of the Tu-104 might have explained, in part, Johnston’s derogatory comments about said Soviet airliner.
The very success of the Centennial air show led to some serious road problems, however. The traffic jams proved so ginormous that numerous families left their automobiles with their overheating engines by the side of the road and walked to the airport. They of course had to walk back, hoping that their vehicle would start – and that the journey home would not be too horrendous.
And yes, the traffic jams caused several people to miss their flight.
As the Centennial air show came to a close, a reception at the airport began. Pyotr Fyodorovich Strunnikov politely accepted a glass of Canadian vodka. That counsellor at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa took a sip and spat it out. “Your vodka is too refined,” he stated. The grimaces made by crew members of the Tu-104 showed they were equally unimpressed. Even so, with Frolov close at hand, they bravely emptied their glasses.
The following day, in other words, on Monday, 16 June, the aforementioned Hume invited the crew of the Tu-104 to an “impromptu dinner party.” Many people involved in their visit were also invited. Much fun was seemingly had by all, as can be ascertained from the following photograph.
The host of the “impromptu dinner party” held in Vancouver by the mayor of that city, Frederick John Hume, with some of his guests. Back row, from left to right: Royal Canadian Air Force Squadron Leader William Kereliuk, interpreter / air intelligence officer; Leonid Platonov and V. Krasnov, two of the crew members of the Tupolev Tu-104; and Francis Philip Bernard, chairperson of the special events section of the Centennial air show. Front row, also from left to right: Ivan I. Frolov, chief pilot of the Tu-104; Vancouver mayor Frederick John Hume; Pyotr Fyodorovich Strunnikov, counsellor at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa; and John Russell Taylor, Member of Parliament and member of the Centennial committee. Anon., “–.” The Province, 27 June 1958, 3.
It was possibly during the dinner party that the spouse of the Vancouver-based district manager of an important American airline, United Air Lines Incorporated, Mrs. Ted Cox, got into a halting conversation with one of crew members of the Tu-104, V. Krasnov. Her daughter, 14 year old Nancy Cox, wanted to know if Soviet teenagers had to deal with a lot of homework. Krasnov confirmed that they did, adding that he had a 14 year old daughter of his own, Veronica V. Krasnova.
Mrs. Cox was so thrilled by that piece of news that she managed to obtain the address of the Soviet teen, so that her daughter could exchange letters with Krasnov’s daughter. The first letter, sent by Cox’s daughter, was soon on its way. Sadly, history has not recorded whether or not the American teenager got an answer.
Need I remind you that United Air Lines has been mentioned a few times in our famous blog / bulletin / thingee since March 2018? That is what I thought.
This being said (typed?), the Soviets thoroughly enjoyed the aforementioned dinner party, not to mention a cocktail party, an evening in a night club, a guided visit of Vancouver, a visit to Vancouver’s city hall and a shopping spree in a downtown store.
During the visit to city hall, Frolov presented some gifts to the mayor of Vancouver: a book of Russian folklore, gold wings for his jacket lapels and 3 giftwrapped bottles of vodka. As luck would have it, however, Hume was an avowed teetotaler. The latter, in turn presented some gifts to the crew of the Tu-104: books on British Columbia, red roses for their jacket lapels and Centennial silver dollar coins issued in 1958 by the Royal Canadian Mint.
It should be noted that this coin greatly irritated many First Nations people of the region. You see, the totem pole on the reverse side of the coin apparently looked a lot like a Tsimshian totem pole which included a symbol of death, hence the name death dollar given to that commemorative coin by many people.
Frederick Maurice McGregor, chairperson of the civil aviation section of the Centennial air show, is seen here handing souvenir copies of the daily The Vancouver Sun to Ivan I. Frolov, the chief pilot of the Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-104 jet-powered airliner which had taken part in the event, Vancouver International Airport, Richmond, British Columbia. Anon., “–.” The Vancouver Sun, 17 June 1958, 3.
On Tuesday, 17 June, I think, the crew of the Tu-104 thanked their hosts and left Vancouver. Frolov and his crew were unanimous in their praise of the way they had been treated. Whether or not the Soviet pilot liked to bring back a pile of issues of The Vancouver Sun was / is unclear.
The four members of Parliament who had flown from Ottawa to Vancouver, namely the aforementioned Howard, Regier, Smith and Taylor, were seemingly on board for the flight back to the national capital. Mind you, a third federal government backbencher was on board as well. That gentleman was John Andrew W. Drysdale. His riding was in British Columbia. And yes, there were also several / many journalists on board. Yours truly cannot state with any degree of certainty that the aforementioned Côté was one of them.
Also on board the Tu-104, or so claimed James “Jim” Thomson, a photographer with a defunct daily from Ottawa, The Ottawa Journal, were 8 cases of Canadian beer. The crew allegedly tossed back several bottles during the eastward journey across Canada. Mind you, the Soviet crew also took home some apples, several bottles of rye and some bottles of… Chanel No. 5 perfume.
This being said (typed?), the happiest people on board were probably the two Canadian air cadets invited by Frolov. Richard “Dick” Dunsterville and Jack Ashton were simply over the moon. Incidentally, in 1957, the latter had won the prestigious Tudhope Trophy, given annually to the best (teenage?) student pilot in Canada. Dunsterville and Ashton disembarked in Saskatoon and soon made their way back home. Somehow.
A brief thaw in the Cold War: federal government backbencher John Andrew W. Drysdale and Aeroflot flight attendant Alla L. Omelchenkova share a joke aboard the Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-104 jet-powered airliner, somewhere between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Ottawa, Ontario. Jim Thomson, “Russian Jet Features Speed and Hospitality.” The Ottawa Journal, 21 June 1958, 31.
A peaceful moment during the Cold War: Aeroflot flight attendant Alla L. Omelchenkova translates a Canadian newspaper article for Aeroflot pilot Ivan I. Frolov aboard Aeroflot’s Tupolev Tu-104 jet-powered airliner, somewhere between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Ottawa, Ontario. Françoise Côté, “Un petit voyage aux frais de la princesse… soviétique – Ottawa-Vancouver: 5 heures et demie à bord du TU-104.” Le Petit Journal, 29 June 1958, 54.
All in all, the journey eastward was a peaceful affair. Mind you, the dynamic duet of Soviet flight attendants plied their Western passengers with bread, candy, meat and vodka, and / or cider or beer, throughout the flight. Much fun was had by all.
Oh yes, before I forget, the trio of RCAF officers present during the westward flight to Vancouver, namely Flying Officer Brown, Flight Lieutenant Carss and Squadron Leader Kereliuk, were present for the eastward flight from Vancouver. Being on duty, they presumably if perhaps regretfully passed on the vodka, cider and beer.
Would you believe that, between Saskatoon and Ottawa, Frolov gracefully allowed Carss to share the controls of his aircraft. Take that, “Tex” Johnston… You do not believe me, now do you, o ye, of little faith? Here is proof…
A rather happy if slightly worried Royal Canadian Air Force Flight Lieutenant William B. Carss in the co-pilot seat of the Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-104, as Aeroflot pilot N.A. Usanov peered at a map, somewhere between Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and Ottawa, Ontario. Françoise Côté, “Un petit voyage aux frais de la princesse… soviétique – Ottawa-Vancouver: 5 heures et demie à bord du TU-104.” Le Petit Journal, 29 June 1958, 54.
The Members of Parliament and journalists said their goodbyes to Frolov and his crew in Ottawa. As he left the Tu-104, one of the journalists shook Frolov’s hand and tried to thank him in Russian. Rather than say spasiba, or thank you, however, said journalist seemingly said placebo, which does not mean quite the same thing – as we both know. Frolov probably appreciated the effort anyway. He might also have repressed a chuckle. History did not record whether or not the Soviet pilot shared that private moment with members of his crew – or with the stern faced agents of the dreaded Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti who undoubtedly debriefed him and said crew soon after their return to the paradise of the proletariat.
In any event, Brown, Carss and Kereliuk said their goodbyes to Frolov and his crew in Iceland. They politely and / or regretfully declined an offer to fly all the way back to Moscow before returning home to Canada.
The Tu-104 alighted in the Soviet capital on Wednesday, 18 June.
And so ended the brief presence at British Columbia’s Centennial air show of an Aeroflot Tu-104 jet-powered airliner.
All in all, 200 or so Tu-104s were produced between 1955 and 1960. The only other civilian operator besides Aeroflot was Československé Státní Aerolinie (ČSA), in other words the Czechoslovak state airlines, which operated 6 aircraft between 1957 and 1974.
Aeroflot retired its last Tu-104 in March 1979, soon after a crash of another Tu-104 which had resulted in the death of 58 of the 119 people on board. Tragically, 35 or so Tu-104s, including 2 ČSA aircraft, in other words 1 aircraft in 6 (!), were lost in accidents over a period of little more than 20 years – an appallingly high figure. Close to 1 150 people lost their lives. Let me be brutal here: the Tu-104 was an unstable, unsafe, unreliable, poorly designed and dangerous aircraft. Its continued use demonstrated a cruel disrespect for human life on the part of the Soviet government.
In the unlikely event that you wanted to know what happened to the Tu-104 which came to Canada 65 years ago this month, please read the following.
The aircraft received a new registration in February 1960 but kept on flying with Aeroflot. In January 1961, however, it was transferred to the Omskiy Letno-tekhnicheskiy Kolledzh Grazhdanskoy Aviatsii, in other words the Omsk flight technical college of civil aviation, for use as a teaching aid. The aircraft was officially decommissioned in March, only 3 years, yes, yes, only 3 years after going into service. It was scrapped several / many years later.
Stay safe, my reading friend, and keep both feet firmly on the ground.
Profuse apologies for the infernal length of the second part of this article. Yours truly unexpectedly came across interesting factoids after locking in position other June topics. I will endeavour not to do that again.