One of the final massive monuments in Nizhny Novgorod is the monument to Valery Chkalov. Wonderfully situated next to the Kremlin on a hill overlooking the embankment of the Volga River, this monument is in honor of a Soviet test pilot. Born in a town near Nizhny Novgorod, Valery Chkalov became a test pilot for experimental aircraft in the 1930s. During this time, the Soviet Union was extensively building up its air force, and as such, pilots were held up as icons for the public to idolize. Chkalov therefore became a pilot during the most prestigious time for the profession in Soviet Russia.
His claim to fame does not come simply from his status as a pilot, but rather from a feat he performed in 1937. Over the course of two days, from June 18 to June 20th, Chkalov flew from Moscow to Vancouver, Washington, United States of America, across the North Pole. This became the first nonstop flight across the Arctic ice cap, and showed that such a flight was both possible and feasible. This achievement was much lauded by Soviet press, and Chkalov used the opportunity to thank his government, a move which may have increased his prestige in the Soviet Union. He even met with Joseph Stalin, which showed the weight the Soviet government placed on military and aeronautical feats and pilots in general.
Chkalov’s rising star was quickly extinguished in December of 1938. While piloting a prototype fighter, Chkalov lost control of his aircraft and crashed. He died shortly thereafter. Local legend states that when his plane was losing altitude, he had the opportunity to eject, but noticed that his plane’s trajectory would carry it into some residential buildings. In order to save them, the legend continues, he steered the plane out from this trajectory, where he collided with some power lines and met his end. The next year, a monument was commissioned, which was unveiled in 1940.
The monument sits atop a hill, right next to the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin. Its location is such that it is the last part of the Kremlin a visitor comes to if walking around the exterior in a northward direction. On the base of the monument, a map of his famous flight is shown. After World War II, German prisoners of war were used to construct a massive staircase which reaches from the river embankment up the hill to the base of the Chkalov monument. The surrounding area, apart from hosting the Kremlin and all its cultural attractions, is also home to several dining establishments such as Mir Pizzi (Pizza World), Shokoladnitsa, a Starbucks-esque café with a wider food selection, and several sushi bars. One can go down the staircase and take in the picturesque Volga right on the banks, and even purchase a ticket for a wonderful river cruise. And finally, one should not miss out the opportunity to enjoy a sort of local joke. If you are ever near the monument, be sure to stand behind Chkalov, on the leftmost edge of the third step.