Inducted in 1968
First To Fly Over The North Pole, 1926 First To Fly Over The South Pole, 1929
1888 – 1957
Lieutenant Commander Richard Byrd and Floyd Bennett were the first airmen to fly over the North Pole in the “Josephine Ford,” a Fokker Trimotor equipped with skis. Shortly after midnight on May 9, 1926, navigator Byrd and pilot Bennett lifted off a snow-packed runway at Kings Bay, Spitsbergen in Norway. They headed across the formidable arctic wasteland and at 9:02 a.m. crossed the top of the world, 800 miles from their take-off point.
On Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1929, pilot Bernt Balchen, Byrd and a crew of three climbed aboard the Ford Trimotor that Byrd had named “Floyd Bennett” after his old comrade who had died in 1928. At 3:29 p.m. they left the ice pack, headed due south at a speed of 90 miles per hour and climbed to 8,000 feet. As the craft approached the Queen Maud mountain range, the crew was forced to throw overboard everything not tied down, including emergency supplies, to reduce weight so that the craft could clear the glacial summits and reach the polar plateau. At 1:14 a.m. on November 29, Byrd reported by radio “we have reached the South Pole.”
Though each polar flight was completed in less than a day, the excursions’ logistics required months of planning and execution. The Antarctic expedition was a particularly massive undertaking. Byrd went $184,000 in debt to outfit two ships, three planes and 82 men. Fifty men remained in the frozen desert for two years in this scientific endeavor.
Byrd was awarded the Navy Cross for his double success. More importantly, he had opened the way for trans-arctic passenger routes, as well as for routine exploration of both the earth’s poles.