By John M Dahlen

Since I became involved with the Alaska Airmen’s Association’s group VFR flights from Alaska to Russia about 5 years ago, a number of our members have asked me about the history and origins of this program. As most of you know, we have not been allowed to organize and conduct our AK2RU flights for the past 4 summers now, due to public health concerns and socio-political barriers. It is my intention to begin organizing AK2RU flights again as soon as the airspace is reopened and we are permitted by U.S. and Russian authorities to conduct such flights again.

Obviously, there is a lot of public animosity between the U.S and Russia at this time, most notably as a result of the Russian war in Ukraine. As a result, AK2RU flights remain out of the question for now. We, as AK2RU groups, don’t involve ourselves in these tragic situations, or any other political conflicts worldwide. While a certain amount of interaction with the authorities of both the U.S. and Russia is unavoidable when obtaining the required permits and authorizations for our AK2RU flights, we have always insisted that our pilots and other participants carry no political goals for our flights. Our primary mission as international general aviation ambassadors is to promote goodwill with the everyday people of the Russian Far East; especially those who share or want to develop within themselves our passion for flying. Secondarily, our mission is to utilize and verify that Russian Aviation Route KR824 (formerly B369}, which the Alaska Airmen’s Association played a role in developing and getting published on charts in both countries, remains operational from the international border at the Diomedes to Provideniya. These have been our goals since the first flight, back in 1991. This strictly apolitical goodwill ambassador focus has been a key element in our groups consistently being welcomed in the Russian Far East over the years. And I still dream of the day when our Russian general aviation peers can enjoy the same adventure we enjoy of flying between Alaska and Russia, and beyond.

In response to the member inquiries I have received, and my own thirst for knowledge, I have been researching the history of our AK2RU flights. (The AK2RU designation is relatively new, having been created in 2019). I have talked with participants of past flights, and read everything I find about these group flights. In this edition of the Transponder, I am sharing an article about the first flight which appeared in a Wichita Falls, TX newspaper. The year was 1991, and the Soviet Union was still in existence. George Bush was president of the United States, and Mikhail Gorbachev was president of the Soviet Union. These two leaders were actively warming international relations between the two countries, and the Cold War had essentially ended; creating a political climate which made our goodwill ambassador flights possible. The Soviet Union would dissolve into 15 independent countries 6 months after our first flight from Alaska to Russia. Those two events were completely unrelated, of course. The biggest 1991 hit in the U.S was “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” by Bryan Adams.

I am unable to gaze into a crystal ball and see when we will be able to resume our AK2RU flights, but I remain confident that the time will come. Meanwhile, I pray for peace, not only in Ukraine and Russia, but worldwide; and wish each of you a safe and joyous holy day season! See you here again next year in January, 2024!


Warmth of friendship helps further thaw Cold War chill

By Louise Gregg, Staff Writer

Reprinted from, and with the permission of The Wichita Falls Times Record News. This article was originally published therein on July 29, 1991 (Vol. 86 No. 76).

When Dr. Richard Sutton and his 20-year-old son landed a private plane on the vast frozen tundra of Provideniya, Russia, June 18 it was a little like Neil Armstrong stepping from Apollo 11 and walking on the moon July 20, 1969. It was a first-ever event.

Sutton is a Wichita Falls Radiologist His tall, blond son, also named Richard, is a junior at Stanford University in California. They made the flight from Nome, Alaska to Provideniya in a twin-engine Cessna 310. Thirty-seven other planes, some single-engine, and 70 or 80 people took part in the unprecedented “fly-in.”

“This was the first time any private plane had landed in Russia,” discounting, Sutton said, the incident of “a German teen-ager who once illegally crossed Soviet airspace, was not intercepted by officials and landed in Red Square.

The adventure had been brewing in the minds of the Alaskan Airmen’s Association for three years. The close proximity of Alaska to Russia had allowed members on occasion to host commercial Russian aviators on U. S. soil. One night, “after a number of late night toasts, somebody humorously suggested the notion of a U.S.S.R. fly-in,” Sutton said. “But the idea of 70 or 80 people in 40 planes flying into the Soviet Union was ludicrous.”

But after cutting through miles of red tape and hurdling enormous barriers, the fly-in was approved by Russian and American officials. “The bureaucracies of both countries were extremely hesitant,” Sutton said. Though the cold war had thawed considerably, “they were not emotionally prepared to accept such a proposal.

The flight was proposed as a friendship exchange. “We would shake a few hands . . . drink a few beers,” Sutton said. He noted that “there are more planes per capita and more pilots per capita in Alaska than in any country.” Eskimo culture on both continents is the same. Pilots for the fly-in were strictly screened. They came from all over North America. Some were Alaskans, some Canadians.

Pilots were to meet in Nome June 13 when aircraft would be inspected. Sutton said: “Fearing being stuck in bad weather in the Yukon and having the group leave without me, I pre-positioned my 310 in Anchorage three weeks in advance.” For that remote trip, Sutton persuaded (another Wichitan Doctor) to go along. They flew back to Wichita Falls by commercial plane and Sutton returned by commercial plane to Anchorage for the historic adventure.

He said taking his Cessna early was a good move. “By the time he got to Anchorage the right vacuum pump had failed, the (…) RPM control cable was stuck, the right brake caliper was leaking, and the heater didn’t work.”

He said survival gear is mandatory for flying in remote areas and he removed the back seat of his plane to make room for life jackets, flares, fire starters, camping gear, and food for him and his son for 14 days.

Sutton said life jackets would be no good in a crash into the Bering Sea. “Total time over the water is not great,” he said, “but since the water temperature hovers in the range of 30 degrees Fahrenheit you really do not want to take a dip . . . I understand that in water that temperature you are incapacitated in two minutes and dead in five!”

Foul weather in Nome, where Sutton met his son, forced them to delay the trip. “ A week in Nome is a long time. With rain and fog and anticipation it seemed like forever.”

With all aircraft ready for final inspection, “we were at the mercy of the Moscow bureaucrats, who withheld final approval for the flight until the very last moment.” Up until the time they revved their engines, “everything was tentative.”

Sutton traced the route of their flight. “Up the coast from Nome, past Port clarence, to Tin City RCO, then west over the Bering Strait. The border lies between Little Diomede (ours) and Big Diomede (theirs) islands.” Sutton said they were required to always keep their aircraft within gliding distance of land. Five planes at a time went into Provideniya, a deep water port, the last place ships can get in and out.

The Suttons radiated excitement as they talked of entering Soviet airspace, “9,500 feet over the Arctic Ocean.” Theirs was the first flight, and planes descended to an approved altitude of 1,200 meters. “We lost visual contact with each other for a brief moment,” said Sutton. “We used a Soviet Eskimo fishing village as a landmark to form up and we were off again to Provideniya.

Young Richard said that in the town of 4,000, “little kids exchanged pins.” {The kind you wear on T-shirts.) He brought home a bagful, some related to sports, some related to peace. He had taken to the youngsters pins from the U.S. “They did not want us to take any rubles out of the country,” he said.

The university student was pleased that he gained a personal perspective of the once mysterious and often misunderstood country. “In Russia, everyone works. There are no homeless and no panhandlers,” he said. ”The people live in state-owned apartments, all with five floors, all exactly alike. There are no private homes.”

The Suttons praised the daycare centers. While it is cold and bleak on the outside, the centers are warm and cheerful and the children are happily engaged in interesting activities. “All are smiling and each one is holding on to a toy, just like in the United States.  The woman whose apartment they stayed in is the cultural director and in charge of the centers.

The Russians were hospitable, said Sutton. “They had limited resources. They sacrificed to feed us.” He added that they were served a fresh tomato. With the frozen ground and no gardens, “I have no idea where it came from.”

The bottled beer in Provideniya spoils quickly,” Sutton said. It does not keep like most bottled beverages, but gets old like milk.

Two groups stayed on freighters instead of in apartments. The guests of the Russians were taken on a walking tour the first day. “We were escorted by cultural directors,” said Sutton.

Richard the younger recalled that three 15-year-old Russian girls were among those touring. “They were made up like they were going to the symphony or the ballet,” he said.

Communication was not easy. “I kept hearing the word ‘bureaucrat’ in each attempt at communication,” said Richard. Yet “thoughts” were conveyed easily with many smiles and nods. Body language said a lot. {And a little vodka helped.}

The guests were allowed to stay just three days. “There were some tearful partings. We had gotten close to the families,” Sutton said.

“We were on a friendship mission and we accomplished our purpose,” said Sutton.”It was just the idea. No one had done it before.”

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