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Arctic air expedition to nine countries starts from Russia

July 03, 15:01 UTC+3 SAMARA

First voyage of its kind in Russian aviation history

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© Lev Fedoseev/TASS

SAMARA, July 3. /TASS/. An Arctic air expedition, which will cross nine countries, including Russia, kicked off from Russia’s Samara Region on Tuesday morning, a TASS correspondent reported from the site.

Three amphibious planes took off one after another from a small air field in the Krasny Yar village, heading for north-east.

Before the expedition, the TASS correspondent met with the voyage participants.

First voyage of the kind in Russian aviation history

The planes will cover more than 20,000 km above the polar areas. The expedition’s organizers say this would be the first voyage of the kind for Russian amphibious planes.

"The expedition’s route is about 11,000 nautical miles (20,000 km - TASS)," the project’s coordinator Sergei Alafinov said. "In Russia, we are flying towards the Arctic Ocean and then will go along the shore to the Shmidt Cape and the Providence Bay."

From there, the planes will cross Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, the UK, Norway, Sweden and Finland, and then the expedition will go above Velikiy Novgorod, Yaroslavl and Cheboksary to return to the Samara Region, he continued. The planes will make about 50 landings and stops on the route. "We plan the expedition will take about 40 days," he added.

Another member of the expedition, cosmonaut and Hero of the Soviet Union Oleg Atkov said the flight is supported by the Russian Presidential Administration, the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Transport. "All of them have supported us accordingly," Atkov said.

This Arctic expedition would be the first stage of the global oceanic flight, dubbed Twenty Thousand Leagues Above the Sea. This global project, with the route crossing coastal areas of four continents, three oceans and seven seas, will contain an aviation route to the Antarctica.

"If everything is fine with the Arctic stage, then next year we shall make another, Antarctic stage," Alafinov said. "As you know, in early 2020 we shall mark the 200th anniversary of discovering the Antarctica by Russian explorers."

Six Russians and one French

The expedition features seven members - six Russians and one French. The expedition’s head is cosmonaut, Hero of Russia, Valery Tokarev, and Oleg Atkov is responsible for the scientific part. The flight’s only foreign participant is France’s amphibious aviation pilot Loic Blaise.

The flight is operated by Russia’s unique amphibious planes - two LA-8 (eight seats, haulage capacity of up to 2.6 tonnes) and a Borey (two seats; haulage capacity of up to 700 kg). The flight will be at up to 3,000 km at about 200 km/h. Both LA-8 and Borey are made at the AeroVolga plant.

"This flight is on the Russian, not foreign, planes, which is very important," Alafinov said. "Our pilots are flying the world on board foreign-made Robinsons, Cessnas, Pipers, not on Russian planes; and besides, it would be interesting for foreigners to see our planes."

The organizers say the expedition’s goal is to conduct various climatic, medical and biological experiments, to probe the Earth from small heights and to design future routes for air tourism in Russia’s North.

Experiments on themselves

During the expedition, its members will make on themselves different medical and biological experiments.

"We are taking some equipment, made by Russian scientific companies - it will analyze human capacities," Atkov said. "During the expedition, we shall be in a specific environment - the Polar day, when the Sun would be practically visible all the time and it will become a factor to fail the circadian rhythms."

The travelers would also feel influence from the wide range of temperatures - from minus 20 to plus 20. Mobile equipment fixed on their bodies will record ECGs to forward the data, whenever communication becomes available, to the medical headquarters in Moscow.

"MSU (the Lomonosov Moscow State University) and a few more Academic institutions have participated in another part of the scientific program, which is aimed at the human genome studies," Atkov continued. "Before the departure, we have given our genetic data, and scientists will compare them to the data upon the return, so that to see how much the circadian rhythms can change the genes, which are responsible for regulation of those rhythms."

The Arctic tourism

The expedition’s another task is to analyze options for air tourism. "Our task is to see how to regain the opportunities we had in the Soviet times, where more than 80 Antonov An-2 planes used to work in the North and where every more or less big settlement had a runway," Alafinov said. "Unfortunately, nowadays we do not have anything similar."

The pilots do not doubt that with a network of routes, the Russian North would be very popular among tourists. "I hope we shall be able to give quite clear recommendations to the Ministry of Transport - what roadmap to have in order to attract tourists to the North," Alafinov continued. "We are aware of periods of very complicated climate conditions, but there are also beautiful times, like in April, when the snow is white, the Sun is bright and the temperature is about ten degrees, or like it is now, in July - when all the tundra is in blossom."

In addition to that, the expedition will point to problems, foreign pilots are facing in Russia, head of the Russian non-governmental organization of pilots and civil plane owners (AOPA of Russia) Andrei Ivanov, participating in the expedition, said.

"Here in Russia, a foreign pilot may land at an international airport only," he said. "Coming to a private field is a huge problem: obligatory personal permissions from Rosaviatsiya (aviation authority), and this requirement complicates tourism greatly."

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