HISTORY - Pre-Construction The Northwest Staging Route Aircraft
Three main types of combat aircraft were ferried to the Soviet Union under Lend-Lease. Fighter aircraft were Bell P-39 Airacobras, and later its successor, the Bell P-63 Kingcobra, which were favored by the Red Air Force who used the two types with great success. The majority of the P-39s shipped to the Soviet Union were the definitive Q-models. Bombers included the Douglas A-20 Havoc light attack bomber and North American B-25 Mitchellmedium bombers that were also sent to the Red Air Force. Transport aircraft were made up of predominantly, the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, also supplied in great numbers.
The Bell fighters and the B-25 Mitchells were flown up to Ladd via Minneapolis; the C-47s and A-20s came up via Great Falls. A handful of other aircraft types, North American AT-6 Texan trainers, some North American Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighters, three Republic P-47 Thunderbolts and one Curtiss C-46 Commando transport were also ferried to Russia. The aircraft were supplied with Russian language operations and maintenance manuals, as well as painted in Red Air Force camouflage colors and national markings.
The Russians set up a command at Ladd Field and Nome where their pilots were trained to take over the aircraft and fly them to Krasnoyarsk in Siberia and on to various fronts in western Russia. The first group of Russian pilots arrived at Nome on 14 August 1942 on their way to Ladd Field. Along with the pilots were civilians from the Soviet Purchasing Commission and a group of Red Air Force mechanics. Most were located at Ladd, with a secondary group at Marks Field. The first Lend-Lease aircraft, a group of 12 A-20 Havocs, arrived at Ladd on 3 September 1942. The first Russian pilots, after five days of training on the aircraft, took off for Nome and the long trip to the Eastern Front.
Initially the USAAF provided the initial training on how to operate and maintain the Lend-Lease aircraft. Later, after an experienced cadre was developed, the Russians assumed the responsibility. The Russians also meticulously inspected each aircraft, and would reject any aircraft that presented the slightest problem. The USAAF was then left with the chore of correcting them. It was sometimes quite exasperating, as the USAAF would work long hours of overtime to get the aircraft into first-class condition so that all the Russians had to do was fly them from Fairbanks to the Eastern Front.