When we learned to fly
In 1917 Russia and Great Britain were immersed in a bloody war for several years. The forces were weakened and almost all resources exhausted. There was a great shortage of pilots in the army and since the aviation training institutes were not as developed and qualified in Russia, officers were being sent to England and France for expert level pilot training. The best 240 officers were chosen to be trained abroad. The process of the selection was very long and thorough since many different qualities were being looked at: skills, intelligence, health and physical shape and more importantly trustworthiness. Armenak Sarkissov was one of those 240 pilots to be trained in England. He was born in 1895 in a large Armenian family in Sighnaghi, Georgia. After graduating from local school in 1912 he was sent to his sister in Warsaw with the purpose of obtaining higher education. Therefore a mistake appeared on his registration card about his place of birth – Warsaw, which we now know is not true. He started taking accounting courses and work at a plywood factory to meet the ends since the money sent from home was very little. In 1915 he was called back to Sighnaghi and mobilized for mandatory military service. He became a private soldier in the First Leib Guard Cavalry Regiment of Pskov. His ability to speak different languages was noticed and soon he became the personal translator for one of the high ranked officers. There was a desperate need for interpreters and translators since most of the recruits were from Armenia or Georgia. Since Armenak spoke Russian, Polish, Armenian, Georgian and Turkish fluently, he was sent to train as a Warrant Officer. In 1916 he finished the course and was appointed as a Commander and later that year enrolled at Petrograd Polytechnic Institute for a summer course.
On the 25th of February of 1917, the legendary cruiser Varyag leaves Romanov-on-Murman (nowadays Murmansk) heading to Liverpool in order to be repaired. Armenak Sarkisov was on the board among 100 of cadet pilots and 12 officers. On March 4th of 1917, the future pilot arrived in England, where he and other Russian cadets heard the news from homeland about the abdication of Nikolai II and the succession of power of The Russian Provisional Government. Armenak was enlisted in the international group where he studied with students from Poland, Estonia, Russia aged from 19 to 25, all belonging to different social classes. During the course young pilots visited various aerodromes and were trained to operate such aircrafts like “Mourice Farman”, В.Е.2Е, «Curtiss», D.H.-6, В.Е.2В, В.Е.2С, «Avro», «Morane Biplane», «Sopwith Pup», «Sopwith», R.E.8, В.Е.12, S.E.5A, S.E.5B, «Martinsyde», D.H.-4, «Bristol Scout». Each cadet had to get familiar with at least 3-6 aircrafts and the most talented were trained in piloting jet fighter «Bristol Fighter». However, quite often there were no spaces at schools, therefore Russian cadets did not have the chance to fly strike planes.
Cadets who learned how to fly jet fighters continued and participated in training air combat where aerobatic exertion had to be performed perfectly. After completing 3 stage piloting course cadets were obtained a rank of Air Force Aviator. On the 29th of September 1917, Armenak successfully completed the course as a Military Pilot. At the time The Russian Provisional Government bought a few dozens of Caproni aircraft from Italy. An interesting fact is that in order to deliver them to Russia, some of our newly trained pilots were chosen. While they were learning air-routes from Italy to Russia and getting familiar with “Caproni”, Russian Revolution took place. Lenin and his supporters came to power, and subsequently, all agreements between Italy and the Russian Provisional Government were suspended or called off. Due to this reason, Italy kept “Caproni” planes and the pilots were sent to Paris. The Representative of the Military Mission in Paris, Count Ignatiev, took upon himself to decide the Russian pilots’ fate and sent them back to England, where the representative of Soviet Russian Government Mr. Litvinov helped the pilots to return to Russia in autumn 1917. Interestingly, all the pilots were divided based on their political beliefs and Armenak was supporting Red Army. He was called to Moscow in 1918 and appointed as a commander to one of the newly formed Smolenskaya aviation group units. In 1918 Sarkissov went on about 40 secret combat missions for explorations and flew for more than 90 hours with every flight lasting more than 2 hours. The same year he was awarded the Commander of the Air Force of the South. In 1919 he was transferred to the “Tsar” Front as commander of the 16th squadron. In the summer of the same year, he becomes very ill. When Sarkissov returned to airforces after a long recovery, he voluntarily applied to be a regular pilot in his own unit. Within the next few years, he was transferred to unit 22 and in 1923 to unit 47 where Armenian, Georgian and Azeri squadrons were combined. Shortly after that Armenak Sarkissov was discharged. He was called back during the WWⅡ and was appointed the assistant chief of logistics in the technical unit. Armenak served at Krasnodar airfield and participated in the defense of Sevastopol and the Caucasus, the Crimea and southern Ukraine. Armenak Tigranovich Sarkisov lived a bright and interesting life. Even at old age he led an active life and worked with young people. He often performed in factories, schools, and universities. The honorary “pensioner” who participated in three wars, has left a significant mark in the history of world aviation.