Iwan Smirnoff was  a Russian pilot who fought on the German-Russian front during the First World War. When the Sowjet Revolution broke out in 1917 he had downed at least 9 German planes and as such, he was one of the leading Russian aces during this period. Smirnoff did not stay in his country, but went to the U.K. where he worked as a flight instructor. His next job was as pilot at SNETA, the forerunner of the Belgian Sabena. In 1922 he started to fly for the Dutch KLM. This was the beginning of a life-long career at KLM. One of the more famous flights he made was a record flight to Netherlands East Indies (N.E.I.) in the Fokker F.XVIII PH-AIP ‘Pelikaan’.

Ivan Smirnoff

Ivan Smirnoff

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1940, Smirnoff was in the N.E.I where he continued to fly. After the Japanese had occupied N.E.I. he fled to Australia. Here, he was shot down by Japanese Zero’s when flying a Dakota. He managed to land on the beach of the Australian coast. He and his crew were rescued after a few days by the Australians. After the war he started to fly again for KLM. When his flying career was over he worked at KLM’s inspection office until his retirement in 1955. Born at Vladimir in Russia in 1895, he died in 1956 at Majorca, Spain.

Iwan Smirnoff and his crew in front of the Fokker F.XVIII PH-AIP 'Pelikaan'. The original picture was taken in front of the Fokker F.XX 'Zilvermeeuw', the plane that was initially planned for the flight to N.E.I. Because of a malfunctioning engine this plane was withdrawn last moment and replaced by the F.XVIII PH-AIP. This much published postcard is in fact the result of early photoshopping!

Iwan Smirnoff and his crew in front of the Fokker F.XVIII PH-AIP ‘Pelikaan’. The original picture was taken in front of the Fokker F.XX ‘Zilvermeeuw’, the plane that was initially planned for the flight to N.E.I. Because of a malfunctioning engine this plane was withdrawn last moment and replaced by the F.XVIII PH-AIP. This much published postcard is in fact the result of early photoshopping!

In Russia Smirnoff was a totally forgotten hero, until the StateVladimir and Suzdal Museum decided to publish a book on him. This book project was started in 2015 when a Russian delegation visited the Aviodrome Theme Park Museum at Lelystad airport. Aviodrome has a large collection of Smirnoff memorabilia and documents. Together with items from Smirnoff’s early period in Russia from the State Vladimir and Suzdal Museum this has resulted in a nice book with lots of rare photographs. The book was presented at 21 September 2017 during the opening of a special temporary exhibition at Aviodrome on Smirnoff.

Book details:

Title: Russian ‘Flying Dutchman’ Iwan Smirnoff.
Authors: Oleg  Gureyev and various other authors.
Publisher: Vladimir, Russia.
Book details: hard cover, 21.5 x 30 cm, Landscape format with glossy paper.
                     157 pages, Russian-English language
Book number: ISBN 978-5-906608-44-4

With special thanks to the State Vladimir and Suzdal Museum for providing a free copy of the book.

Nico Braas

A detailed story on Iwan Smirnoff can be found on this website; https://ilibrariana.wordpress.com/2014/12/03/luchtvaartpionier-iwan-smirnoff