Facebook Twitter

Tennessee women plan to circle Earth to mark historic ’38 flight

SHARE Tennessee women plan to circle Earth to mark historic ’38 flight

Flight suits? Check. Maps? Check. Enough fuel to make it across Siberia? Ummm . . .

Nikki Mitchell and Rhonda Miles, who plan to depart today from Lebanon on an around-the-world flight in a single-engine Maule M-5, couldn't answer the last question until two days ago."We got our yes!" Mitchell hollered as Miles walked in the door of her Nashville office Wednesday. She waved a fax from the Russian government promising to provide them fuel for their flight across Siberia.

That's the most important part of the journey for Mitchell and Miles, Nashville women who will be commemorating a non-stop trip three Russian women pilots made from Moscow to the southeastern tip of Siberia in 1938.

Sixty years ago, Valentina Grizodubova, Paulina Ossipenko and Marina Raskova broke the long-distance world record for female aviators and received the Soviet Union's highest honor, the Gold Star.

Raskova went on to found the Night Witches, a regiment of women who flew combat planes in World War II.

"These women were the role models for all women, whether you flew or not," said Mitchell, whose research for a screenplay on the Night Witches piqued her interest in the flight.

The Tennessee women say they won't be duplicating the Russian women's accomplishment, only drawing attention to it.

"These women flew 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) in bad weather with no radio communication," Mitchell said. "Now we're tracked all the time. All we can do is to bring to light what they did."

They already have.

Earlier this year, Vice President Al Gore invited the women to a state dinner in Washington, D.C., with Viktor Chernomyrdin, then the Russian premier. Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., wrote a newspaper column about the planned trip.

Mitchell, 43, and Miles, 40, will fly from Lebanon, just east of Nashville, to Moscow, where they will meet two Russian pilots, Khalide Makagonova and Natalia Vinokourova. The four women then will retrace the 1938 flight.

Makagonova and Mitchell will be in one plane, while Miles will pair with Vinokourova in another. The four will fly side-by-side across Siberia, making nine stops.

When they reach P. Ossipenko, Russia, a town named after one of the Rodina fliers, the Russian pilots will turn back to Moscow. Mitchell and Miles will fly home across Alaska, Canada and the Midwest, a total of 15,000 miles.

The trip costs an estimated $250,000 and Miles said they "have sold everything but our kidneys" to pay for it. They hope to create a documentary from the flight and might write a book.

"My mother said, `Why can't you just commemorate someone who flew over Oklahoma and Texas?' " Mitchell joked.