Air Marshal Alexander Silantiev, the first Russian to be honored at the Gathering of Eagles, was born 23 August 1918, in Sverdlovsk in the Urals. He developed an early interest in aviation, flying gliders, skydiving, and receiving his pilot instructor license while still in his teens. In 1938, he joined the Red Air Force and graduated from the Stalingrad Aviation Academy. His first unit was the 160th Fighter Aviation Regiment of the 43rd Fighter Aviation Division in Belorussia. While flying the Polikarpov I-153 Chaika (Seagull), an obsolete biplane, he was in combat on the first day of Germany's invasion, 22 June 1941.
The next day, he earned his first victory, shooting down a Ju-88 over Dzerzhinsk, but enemy machine gunners forced him to make a dead-stick landing at his home field. During the first month of the war, he flew 47 sorties and damaged several German aircraft. Silantiev exchanged his I-153 for a LaGG-3 in July of 1941 and flew this aircraft for the next year and a half. On one occasion, he was forced to crash land his crippled LaGG in a forest. Despite wounds and shock, Silantiev spent the next 48 hours braving six feet of snow and sub-freezing temperatures to make his way back to Russian forces. The 160th Fighter Aviation Regiment saw continuous action in the desperate fighting in defense of Leningrad, and when the squadron withdrew in January 1943 for refit, only 5 of the original 40 pilots remained. Silantiev, himself, was shot down three times.
While at the Volkhov front, he was designated a test pilot and flew numerous types of fighter aircraft, including the I-15, the I-153, the I-16, the LaGG-3, the MiG-3, the Yak-1, the Hawker Hurricane, and the P-40. Silantiev rose to command a squadron of the 160th Fighter Aviation Regiment. In 1943, he transferred against his wishes to the staff of the Red Air Force, training fighter pilots destined for combat. He participated in most of the crucial battles of the war, including Leningrad, Kursk, and finally, the battle for Berlin. He flew over 365 combat sorties and shot down 18 enemy aircraft, 8 of them unassisted.
After the war, Silantiev graduated from the Monino Academy and prepared fighter pilots for combat in the Korean War in 1951. A succession of staff assignments followed, culminating with Deputy Chief of Staff of the Soviet Air Force. Air Marshal Silantiev retired in 1980 and led the Soviet War Veterans Committee. His military decorations include the Hero of the Soviet Union, two Orders of Lenin, two Orders of the Red Banner, Order of the Great Patriotic War (1st and 2nd rank), two Orders of the Red Star, Order of Service to the Motherland in the Armed Forces of the USSR, and various foreign medals and honors.
Silantiev's LaGG-3 taxied over the frozen ground of an airfield on the Volkov front in mid-winter, 1941-42. The LaGG-3 was a vast improvement over Silantiev's previous aircraft, the obsolete Polikarpov I-153. While still out classed by the German Me 109, the LaGG-3 enabled the 160th Fighter Aviation Regiment to conduct offensive operations in support of ground troops. In continuous action in the epic defense of the besieged city of Leningrad, Silantiev was one of only 5 surviving pilots from the 160th Fighter Aviation Regiment's original 40, when finally relieved in January 1943.