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Decorated Russian Commander expresses “Deep Esteem” and “Everlasting Appreciation” during unknown top-secret mission in America

Colonel Maxim Chibisov with US Navy ID card he used during Project Zebra

When Hitler destroyed 80 percent of the Soviet air force during the early days of World War II, the decorated Russian air hero, Colonel Maxim Chibisov, was personally selected by Joseph Stalin to fly to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, with 300 Soviet airmen.

There “Max,” as he affectionately came to be known by Soviet and U.S. Naval officers, trained long hours learning to operate a huge, technically advanced amphibious plane called the PBN-Nomad. Over the course of 18 months in 1944-45, America built 185 Nomads in Philadelphia while 11 select US Navy officers trained the Soviet crews. The officers then assisted Max in delivering the planes to the North Atlantic and Pacific theaters. There, the planes, nicknamed named “flying boats,” flew hundreds of combat missions without losing a single plane.

While in America, Max and his men were struck by many things American. First and foremost, was the professionalism of the American officers. Second, despite language and customs barriers, both sides came to trust and respect each other as equals. Finally, Max felt the welcoming smiles of Elizabeth City’s 12,000 residents, and the abundance of the basics of life even during wartime.

According to his diaries, memoirs, and related interviews, Max even considered moving to America after the war. But, recalled the lone surviving Zebra, American officer Gregory Gagarin, Max ultimately decided “Once Russian always Russian.”

Before Max left America, he spoke from the heart in a letter to the US Navy’s Vice Admiral Patrick Bellinger. “I shall take the greatest pleasure in telling the people of my country about the warm and friendly reception accorded all my officers and me during our stay at your base in Elizabeth City. The deep feeling of esteem and appreciation for you will remain with me forever.”

“Much about Project Zebra has been lost in time, since the mission remained top-secret until early 2013,” said critically-acclaimed author, M.G. Crisci, who has written the first complete about the mission, the town’s supportive relationship, and the lifetime friendships the Soviet and American Zebras would cultivate through the Cold War and beyond. The book, Project Zebra. Roosevelt and Stalin’s Top-Secret Mission to Train 300 Soviet Airmen in America. (Orca Publishing USA, $32.95, hardover, 354 pp and 200+ photographs), has received numerous endorsements from internationl cross-cultural
organizations and historical societies and is available in online bookstores everywhere.

Manhattan-born M.G. Crisci ( is the author of ten books based on true stories or real events in the genres of fiction, nonfiction, drama, and romance. His most recent book, The Salad Oil King. An American Tale of Greed Gone Mad (Orca Publishing USA), has been hailed by critics as an
“American crime classic spun by a master story-teller.” Recently, Crisci, a 22-time selectee to Who’s Who in the World, received the Albert Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award for his business, literary, and cultural contributions (

DATE: Mar.23.2018 | CATEGORY: | COMMENTS: 0