Anatoly Markusha, a popular Russian writer, journalist and World War II veteran, would have turned 100 on June 20. His books were translated into 18 languages with a total circulation of more than 15 million copies and read by more than one generation of those who dreamed of conquering the skies. In total, he wrote more than a hundred books.
This is test pilot Alexander Garnayev, Hero of Russia’s take on it: “In our troubled and crazy times of confusion of notions, erosion of values and ubiquitous one-hit wonders, these figures seem more than modest at first glance. But if one could evaluate the eventual result of Markusha's work, to be more precise, the number of pilots who decided to dedicate themselves to this profession thanks to his books, they would not seem insignificant. Unfortunately, it has never been evaluated, but I can say for sure that by the number of people who became pilots after reading Anatoly Markusha’s stories, no commander-in-chief in the entire history of aviation can compare with him!”
I have several of his books in my crowded bookcase, signed by him personally. We were in contact for a long time. He wrote many books for children and some people consider Markusha a children's writer. He always cared about the problems of educating the younger generation. As a journalist, he even ran a special column in one of the federal publications.
Of course, he books are mainly about aviation. He recalls that he got hooked on it when he “missed school because a Polikarpov Po-2 (U-2) landed in the yard.” It so happened that it was exactly in his house that an aviation club was opened. Aircraft and everything connected with them was his greatest passion ever since.
“Is it true that the very first independent flight of pilot Markusha almost became a combat mission?” I asked him during one of the numerous meetings with Markusha in his apartment in Gorky Street.
“Indeed, it happened three days after I graduated from the Borisoglebsk Air Force School and put on the sergeant's shoulder straps. The Great Patriotic War began. To tell the truth, before that I had had no less memorable training flights with an instructor and parachute jumps. I remember one such flight when I was only 16. At an altitude of one thousand meters, the instructor suddenly commanded: "Get out!" So, I crawled out of the cockpit of the old U-2 onto the plane body. My hands were shaking, my knees were vibrating, and, for some reason, my greatest fear was that I would stumble and puncture the canvas wingtip. Of course, I did not look down as I was frightened.
"Go!" said the instructor said. "Where to?" I asked, like an idiot without thinking. In response, the instructor swore, and I understood that he was about to order me to return to the cockpit. The plane, by the way, almost left the airfield. I imagined that on the ground, soldiers would laugh, tease me and torture me with contempt. I jumped.
That day I believed that I could get over myself if I had to. I could do it not in words, but in deeds. Why am I saying this? I had been through a war where every flight was a deed, but I didn't think about it. I was like everyone else.”
“In my opinion, it is impossible to exhaust the subject of aviation,” he told me. “In 1957, when I published the book called ‘Cleared for Take-off!’ which described what it takes to become a good pilot, I received tens of thousands of letters from my readers. I still get them. This shows that the interest in aviation is inexhaustible and that the current generation has an interest in it too.
By the way, Anatoly Markusha performed his last flight at the age of 73, which astonished all aviation workers. Doctors tried to talk him out of flying though he had the pulse of a 20-year-old. This happy opportunity to take to the skies on his old friend U-2 was a birthday present from his aviation colleagues.
“Why is this surprising?” he asked. “I was healthy enough to fly and I had not lost my flying skills. The point is that I cannot stop loving the sky, even though I only flew for fifteen years. My very first plane had wooden wings, wrapped with extra durable cloth, the muslin of the Polikarpov U-2, which later was renamed to Po-2 and received a lot of nicknames on the frontline, from "biplane" to "petty officer." Then I flew the Yakovlev aircraft, from the sports UT-2 to the Yak-23 jet fighter. I also flew Lavochkin planes, from La-5 to La-15. Then I navigated a twin-engine bomber TU-2 and IL-2. My service record also includes the exotic R-10 and even the old I-5. However, life made me come down to earth.
Speaking of his flight at the age of 73, I asked him: wasn't it an autobiographical episode when the character of his book “The Last Parade,” an elderly pilot Alexei, just like Markusha, got in the cockpit to take off. He took off and that was the end of the story.
“Will he never come back to earth?”
“Did you pay any attention to what is written on the title page of this book?” Markusha countered.
“I did. If my memory serves me well, “pilots don't die... just sometimes they do not return from a flight.” Let the reader create the end of the story by himself.”
“Have no doubt that a pilot is the best profession in the world,” he wrote in one of his earliest books. “As one ascends into the purple stratospheric sky, with a very special view of very clear, flat, and silent spaces of the Earth below, one certainly becomes a better man!”
Fortunately, this optimistic conviction of Anatoly Markusha still strikes home with the thousands of young hearts of his readers. It is no coincidence that he devoted so many stories to children, seeing them as the followers of the glorious aviation traditions, which he sacredly honored throughout his long and beautiful life.