National Geographic : 1926 Sep
THE FIRST FLIGHT TO THE NORTH POLE BY LIEUTENANT COMMANDER RICHARD EVELYN BYRD, U. S. NAVY (RET.) ON May 9, 1926, Floyd Bennett and I looked down upon the North Pole from our monoplane, com pletely verifying Peary's observations, and demonstrating the feasibility of using airplanes in any part of the globe. We observed thousands of square miles of the Polar Sea never before seen by man, and returned safely to our base at Spitsbergen after an absence of nearly sixteen hours. We discovered no land near the Pole. We made no aeronautical records of alti tude or duration. We did not suffer any extraordinary hardships, nor can we claim any great personal achievement. We simply took advantage of the knowledge gained by three centuries of Arctic heroes and applied our Navy train ing to aviation, that great science born in this country, and so added a short para graph to the story of man's conquest of the globe on which we live. Seventeen years ago Peary's trip to the North Pole and back kept him out of touch with civilization for more than 400 days. Bennett and I left civilization early one morning, visited the northern apex of the earth, and returned on the afternoon of the same day. Peary's success was the climax of 400 years of Arctic struggle. The history of polar flying has been far briefer, though equally dramatic. There are three routes by which the Polar Sea may be readily approached: the Bering Sea route, up past Alaska; the so-called "American route," north ward through Baffin Bay, along the west coast of Greenland; and the European route, via Spitsbergen.* EXPEDITION TAUGHT ARCTIC FLYING METHODS In the summer of 1925 the MacMillan Arctic Expedition, under the auspices of the National Geographic Society, with the U. S. Navy cooperating, was assured by the approval of President Coolidge. The * See Map of the Arctic Regions, in six colors, issued as a supplement with the NATIONAL GEo GRAPHIC MAGAZINE for November, 1925. mission of that expedition, however, was to explore up Peary's way and not to fly toward the North Pole. Six thousand miles were flown with the three Loening planes (including round trips and repeated flights) and two advanced bases were put down. Aside from its scientific value, I believe that Expedition made a valuable contri bution to exploration by air, for some thing was learned about flying in the Arctic.* Etah, Greenland, up Peary's way, is not accessible until midsummer and, therefore, as at Point Barrow, Alaska, to take advantage of the good spring weather for flying, it is necessary to win ter there, or at least get all the supplies up a year ahead. REASONS FOR SELECTING SPITSBERGEN FOR BASE Spitsbergen, however, is affected by the warming influence of the Gulf Stream. Kings Bay, only 700 miles from the Pole, can be reached in the spring. This settlement is nearly 500 miles nearer the Pole than the northernmost point of Alaska. That is why we selected Spitsbergen. We could reach it in the spring and take advantage of the best Arctic weather and the leveling and smoothing effect both on the land and the ice of the great snow sheet that covers everything. It was our object to explore toward the Pole via Cape Morris Jesup. At the time there already were an nounced several Arctic expeditions, with the first transpolar flight as their main object. This lent the zest of competition to our plans. When Secretary Wilbur, who has taken much interest in exploration of the Arctic by air, unhesitatingly promised me leave of absence, I immediately called on Edsel Ford for assistance. When I had told him our plans, and, * See, also, "Flying Over the Arctic," by Lieut. Commander Richard E. Byrd, Jr., and "The MacMillan Arctic Expedition Returns," in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for November, 1925.