My wife’s great uncle, Mikhail Babushkin, was a Soviet aviator and test pilot. He was born in 1893 in the village of Bordino, which sits in the northwest region of Moscow Oblast. His father was the chief gamekeeper on the estate of the Count Sheremetyevo, on whose lands Moscow’s main airport sits today.
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 Mikhail was drafted into the Imperial Army. He then enrolled into the pilot training program in 1915 at the Gatchina Military Aviation School and remained there as an instructor until 1917, attaining the rank of ensign. During the Russian Civil War, he served with a partisan detachment of the Red Army. He became famous as a test pilot and a polar explorer during the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1928 he participated in an effort to rescue an Italian polar exploration team, whose zeppelin had crashed on the North Pole. He also piloted floatplanes to the drifting Soviet Ice Station “North Pole-1.” Babsuhkin was eventually awarded the Order of Lenin, and was named a Hero of the Soviet Union—that nation’s highest honor—in 1937. Upon receiving this award, he was photographed standing with Joseph Stalin on the walls of the Kremlin. He died in a crash in 1938. A neighborhood in north Moscow is named for him, as is a Moscow Metro station.