The Shchetinin Flying School in Gatchina

“Gamaiun - bird of proud sorrow”
(Vs. Rozhdestvensky)

…This line of verse relates to the history of aviation just as much as to Slavic mythology. For us in Gatchina it is, perhaps, more familiar than to other Russians, in that “Gamayun” was the name given to the private flying school of S. S. Shchetinin, opened in Gatchina in 1910. It was here that Lidia Zvereva, the first Russian woman pilot, was trained, as well as the aviatrix Liubov Galonchikova, a talented actress whose stage name was Mili More.

Lidia Zvereva
Lidia Zvereva
Another surprising thing: how highly educated a man was S. S. Shchetinin - the founder of the “First Russian Society of Aviators” and the “Gamayun” school - to have given this new training establishment such an unusual and obscure name. Today it is easy to decipher and assign a meaning to any obscure word; in this case, with the aid of the “Dictionary of Slavic Mythology” published in Nizhny Novgorod in 1995. The meaning is also given by the poet Vsevolod Rozhdestvensky in his poem “Aleksandr Blok”. Judge for yourselves after reading these lines from East Slavic mythology: “Gamayun: a prophetic bird, emissary and herald of the gods, that sings divine hymns to the people and foretells the future to him who is able to hear its secrets…”

Above all S. S. Shchetinin, a member of the intelligentsia “able to hear its secrets”, i.e. with a profound belief in the power of knowledge and in the potential of the people, predicted with extraordinary accuracy and certainty the great future of aviation in Russia. On the other side of the coin, Vsevolod Rozhdestvensky foresaw with equal accuracy all the danger of the “winged profession”, attended as it was by “proud sorrow”. In fact, an article headed “Victims of aviation”, in the journal “The Aeronaut”, stated that four people died in the year 1909 and twenty-four the following year - among them the world’s first woman pilot, a 20-year-old Frenchwoman, Baroness Raymonde de la Roche.

Liubov Golanchikova
Liubov Golanchikova
Incidentally, Gamayun, if mythology and the editors of the source documents are to be believed, was a bird with the face of a beautiful woman and a striking hairstyle. This too is somehow significant, if we call to mind the first women aviators: Laroche, Zvereva, Golachnikova, Antara, Shakhovskaya, Samsonova and others. At that time - for example in 1911 – almost twenty per cent of aviators were women. We were amazed, later, at Raskova and Grizodubova; yet the “winged profession” had earlier been quite normal for women.

Finally, in this mythological key we must not pass over in silence two outstanding men who were “able to hear its secrets” and who had a close relationship with Gatchina. These were: Gleb Kotelnikov, an actor at the Petersburg folk theatre and inventor of the parachute; and Konstantin Artseulov, grandson of the famous painter Aivazovsky and the first aviator in the world to conquer the deadly aeronautical phenomenon of “spin”. It was he who succeeded in removing aviators’ “sorrow” and increasing their pride.

In the Soviet Military Encyclopedia of 1976 (volume 1, p. 47) we read: “The first Russian pilots were N. Ye. Popov, M. N. Yefimov…”. Nikoliai Yevgrafovich Popov quite rightly stands at the head of this distinguished list: he made his first solo flight on 13 December 1909, and Mikhail Nikiforovich Yefimov on 25 December - though he received his pilot’s diploma on 15 February 1910, earlier than Popov.

This list of great Russian aviators contains one woman’s name. The demonstration flights of Nikolai Popov at the Kolomiazhsky Hippodrome in 1910 were instrumental in destroying forever the peace of mind of a general’s daughter and pupil of the Mariinsky institute for noble-born girls, one Lidia Zvereva.

The Main Page |  The Dawn of Aeronautics |  The Cradle of Military Aviation |  The Shchetinin Flying School in Gatchina |  Kotelnikov’s Parachute |  Aces of the First World War |  Red Pilots |  The Chkalov Squadron |  Leningrad’s Southern Outpost |  Gatchina’s Bomb-blasts |  The Light of Memory |  About the author
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