National Geographic : 1926 Sep
THE FIRST FLIGHT TO THE NORTH POLE the course time and time again, to the right. He could glance back where I was working, through a door leading to the two pilots' seats. Every minute or two he would look at me, to be checked if necessary, on the course by the sun-compass. If he hap pened to be off the course I would wave him to the right or left until he got on it again. WIND DRIFT AND GROUND SPEED CHECKED Once every three minutes I checked the wind drift and ground speed, so that in case of a change in wind I could detect it immediately and allow for it. We had three sets of gloves which I constantly changed to fit the job in hand, and sometimes removed entirely for short periods to write or figure on the chart. I froze my face and one of my hands in taking sights with the instruments from the trapdoors. But I noticed these frost bites at once and was more careful in the future. Ordinarily a frostbite need not be dangerous if detected in time and if the blood is rubbed back immediately into the affected parts. We carried two sun-compasses. One was fixed to a trapdoor in the top of the navigator's cabin; the other was movable, so that when the great wing obscured the sun from the compass on the trapdoor, the second could be used inside the cabin, through the windows. Every now and then I took sextant sights of the sun to see where the lines of position would cross our line of flight. I was very thankful at those moments that the Navy requires such thorough navigation training, and that I had made air navigation my hobby. Finally, when I felt certain we were on our course, I turned my attention to the great ice pack, which I had wondered about ever since I was a youngster at school. We were flying at about 2,000 feet, and I could see at least 50 miles in every direction. There was no sign of land. If there had been any within IOO miles' radius, we could have seen its mountain peaks, so good was the visi bility. I noted that the temperature was 8 de grees above zero-only 24 below freezing. This was not so low as might be expected, but it was getting colder as we sped north. The ice pack beneath was crisscrossed with pressure ridges, but here and there were stretches that appeared long and smooth enough to land on. However, from 2,000 feet the snow may be very deceptive, as we had learned. The pressure ridges that looked so in significant from the plane varied from a few feet to 50 or 60 feet in height, while the average thickness of the ice was about 40 feet. A flash of sympathy came over me for the brave men who had struggled northward over that cruel mass. We passed leads of water recently opened by the movement of the ice, and so dangerous to the foot traveler, who never knows when the ice will open up beneath and swallow him into the black waters of the Polar Sea. I now turned my mind to air conditions, for I knew they were a matter of interest to all those contemplating the feasibility of a polar airway. We found them very good. AIR CONDITIONS WERE FAVORABLE There were no bumps in the air. This was as we had anticipated, for the flat ness of the ice and the Arctic tempera ture are not conducive to air currents, such as are sometimes found over land. Had we struck an Arctic gale, I cannot say what the result would have been as far as air roughness is concerned. An other advantage of spring and summer flying would be the 24-hour daylight. It was time now to relieve Bennett at the wheel, not only that he might stretch his legs, but so that he could pour gaso line into the tanks from the five-gallon tins stowed all over the cabin. Empty cans were thrown overboard to get rid of the weight, small though it was. Piloting was not difficult because of the smoothness of the air, and I was able to check myself on the course by holding the sun-compass in one hand and steering with the other. I had time now leisurely to examine the ice pack and eagerly sought signs of life, a polar bear, a seal, or birds flying, but could see none. On one occasion, as I turned to look over the side, my arm struck some ob ject in my left breast pocket. It was filled with good-luck pieces!