National Geographic : 1927 Aug
NAVIGATING THE "NORGE" FROM ROME TO THE NORTH POLE AND BEYOND The Designer and Pilot of the First Dirigible to Fly Over the Top of the World Describes a Thrilling Voyage of More Than 8,000 Miles BY GENERAL UMBERTO NOBILE Of the Italian Air Force IT WAS in May, 1925, while the world was still anxiously awaiting news of the Amundsen-Ellsworth Airplane Ex pedition, which had come to grief on the Polar ice, that I began to consider the problem of using other aerial means for polar explorations. Heavier-than-air apparatus did not ap peal to me. Polar ice is too uneven and, during the good season, too often hidden by fog to permit landing with any consid erable degree of safety. Moreover, even if a successful landing is managed, the re sumption of flight is problematical, owing to the continuous movements in the for mation of ice, caused by winds and tides. On the other hand, with a dirigible, there is the possibility of slowing down and even coming to a full stop in the air without being compelled to land, whether for the purpose of taking observations or repairing damages. As to the discharge of men and materials, the landing maneu ver presents some difficulties, but it is free from excessive danger when the necessary preparations have been made, and provided, of course, that atmospheric conditions are not utterly unfavorable. For these reasons I conceived the idea of preparing and effecting an Italian Po lar expedition with a dirigible, and by June, 1925, my plan had already taken shape in its main lines. We would start from Spitsbergen in order to explore all that Polar zone within a radius of 600 to 900 land miles. I did not contemplate a mere run to the Pole, but a campaign of exploration, taking advantage of favorable weather conditions prevailing from May to September. We would, in this manner, have effected a fanlike series of explora tions from our island base. While this Italian project was ripening, Captain Roald Amundsen asked to meet me. In our interview he explained his idea to use a dirigible to cross the Arctic from Spitsbergen to Alaska. His idea was conceived independently of mine, but after mine. We soon came to an accord, under the terms of which I assumed the whole re sponsibility for the technical preparation for the expedition. This was effected in Italy under my direction and responsi bility. HOW THE AIRSHIP WAS CONSTRUCTED The airship chosen for the expedition was the N-l, belonging to the Italian aerial fleet and built two years previously. Her first trial flight took place in March, 1924. Here it is not necessary to give a de tailed description of what we call the Ital ian semirigid type of airship. It is enough to recall that the body of the ship, having a shape for good penetration, is built of a rubberized triple-ply fabric. This body, filled with hydrogen, which gives the necessary lifting force, is di vided into a number of compartments by means of transverse diaphragms. The in ferior part of the hull of the ship is stiff ened by a metallic framework of a tri angular section consisting of a number of beams connected by means of knuckle joints. Each beam is made of tubing steel. This framework is covered with var nished fabric. The room inside of it con tains the gasoline tanks (32 in number) and their pipes and also the cables for controlling rudders, elevators, gas valves, air valves, and engines.