11: Sir Ivan
After the record flight Captain Ivan Smirnoff had made, Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962) had graciously named him Knight and conferred upon him the dignity of Chevalier (Knight) of Honour of Orange Nassau. To Ivan the knighthood meant little; the Dutch do not use titles, so except abroad he would not have been called "Sir Ivan". By now KLM had received the complete delivery of eight FXII's, and they had operated their Indies route exclusively with this type. Then, from August 1932, the FXVIII (the Pelican-type) supplemented the FXII and later took over the route altogether. This made the FXII's available for operation on scheduled European flights. Fearful for Margot's health, Ivan was now spacing out his Java journeys with shorter flights, inside Europe. And even here, he found, it was still possible to pioneer: Manchester's airport at Barton opened in January 1930 and was keen to enlist KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to provide an air service linking the city to Amsterdam. However KLM's Albert Plesman considered the landing surface inadequate and on 23 January 1934 senior pilot Captain Ivan Smirnoff flew a Fokker FXII into Barton to make a final test of the facilities. He confirmed that Barton was totally unsuitable for the larger, heavier aircraft coming into service and thus KLM would not be choosing Manchester for its prestigious north of England service, a bad blow to the Council which eventually resulted in the decision to build Ringway. Instead KLM found better facilities at Hull, and on 31 May 1934 Smirnoff made the first regular flight linking the North of England with the Continent. The route between Amsterdam and Hull was opened with a Fokker FXII. Ivan had a cargo of canaries for a local dealer and cases of spirits for a Hull firm. He also had on board the Lord Mayor of Hull, the chairman of Hull Development Committee and the chairman of Hull Aerodrome committee with his wife.
The very first Fokker FXII PH-AFL from 9.1.1931. Later the engines were all
supplied with 'Townend Rings', to reduce radial drag and enforce cooling.
Although KLM would love to have Ivan at the headquarters in The Hague, he had now been flying for twenty years, they certainly did not want him to retire from active service. He was far too good an advertisement for the company's safety and "satisfied client" records. While other men fell victims of mechanical, atmospheric or human hazards, Ivan Smirnoff flew serenely on with no passenger accidents, no passenger complaints - as much a legend in international civil aviation as he had been in the Imperial Russian Air Force.
In 1934 KLM had its very first DC2 delivered with registration PH-AJU. It was an all-metal plane from the American Douglas Company in Santa Monica. It was named 'Uiver' (The Stork). In the autumn the same year it participated in the London-Melbourne race and won a first prize in the transportation category and a second prize in the speed category. Unfortunately the plane crashed a few months later in the Syrian Desert (20.12 1934) on a Christmas flight to Batavia. Plesman ordered a total of 18 DC2's during the thirties and they were put into service on almost any route they had. He was confident that the demand for transportation would still be increasing.
One of the few remaining DC2's in the world flying regularly, with the original livery of the
very first KLM DC2 from 1934. Picture is taken in 2003 by Tobias Rose, Germany.
...Margot was not getting better. For days at a time she could not leave her bed. She refused to be "hospitalized" though. She wore seductive nighties and her room was always bright with flowers.
In spite of the gathering war clouds 1937 dawned with a clear sky for Ivan. Margot was not better, but she seemed no worse, and he was looking forward to celebrating twent-one years as an aviator with a record number of hours flown.
KLM was giving him every chance to do it. He was, again, grabbing all he could of the long runs East, and by June 1937 logged the journey that gave him two million miles (3.200.000 kilometres) in 15000 hours of flying for KLM. But off an then he grumbled. The air schedules, he complained, were nothing but railway timetables, dependable, true, but oh!...so damn' dull!