11–14 May 1926: The famed Norwegian arctic explorer, Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen, departed Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, Norway, aboard the semi-rigid airship Norge.
The airship had been designed by Colonel Umberto Nobile and built at the Italian State Airship Factory at Rome, originally named simply N1. In discussions between Amundsen and Nobile, it was determined that N1 was not suitable for an arctic flight. Amundsen didn’t want to wait for a new lighter-than-air craft to be be built, so Nobile modified it. Amundsen purchased N1 and re-named it Norge.
According to an article in the 20 March 1924 edition of Flight, the airship was 106 meters (347 feet, 8 inches) in length, 26 meters (85 feet, 3 inches) in height, with a maximum diameter of 19.5 meters (64 feet). Buoyancy was provided by 19,000 cubic meters (670,700 cubic feet) of hydrogen. The airship had a useful load of 10,850 kilograms (10.5 tons). Its maximum speed was 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour).
Norge was propelled by three water-cooled, normally-aspirated 23.093 liter (1,409.225 cubic inch) Maybach-Motorenbau GmbH Mb.IV inline six-cylinder overhead valve (OHV) engines with four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.88:1. The engine was able to produce 240 pferdstarke (236.7 horsepower) at 1,400 r.p.m. The engines were placed in gondolas suspended by cables under the hull, and drove propellers through a clutch. A reverse gear was available.
With a 16-man expedition and Umberto Nobile as pilot, Amundsen departed Ny-Ålesund at 9:55 a.m., enroute to Nome, Alaska, via the North Pole. Norge arrived at the Pole at 1:25 a.m. GMT, 12 May, and descending to an altitude of 300 feet (91 meters), dropped three flags, Norwegian, Italian and American, then proceeded south to Alaska. The explorers arrived at Teller at 3:30 a.m., 14 May, and due to adverse weather conditions, ended their flight at that location. Norge had covered 3,393 miles (5,460.5 kilometers).
Amundsen’s flight began just two days after that of Richard E. Byrd and Floyd Bennett aboard their Fokker F.VII/3m, Josephine Ford. Byrd’s flight has been the subject of some controversy as to whether they actually had arrived at the North Pole. The flight of Norge is undisputed.
9 May 1926: Lieutenant Commander Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr., and Chief Aviation Pilot Floyd Bennett, United States Navy, departed Spitzbergen in the Svalbard Archipelago, Norway, on a round-trip flight to the North Pole.
Their aircraft was a Fokker F.VIIa/3m three-engine, high-wing monoplane, construction number 600. The airplane was It was purchased for the Byrd Arctic Expedition by Edsel Ford, and named Josephine Ford in honor of his 3-year-old daughter, Josephine Clay Ford.
With Chief Bennett as the expedition’s pilot and Lieutenant Commander Byrd navigating, they flew approximately 840 miles (1,350 kilometers) to the Pole and returned the same day. The total duration of the flight was 15 hours, 44 minutes.
For this accomplishment, Lieutenant Commander Byrd was promoted to Commander, and Chief Bennett to Warrant Officer. Both aviators were awarded the Medal of Honor by President Coolidge.
In the years since this event, there has been speculation that the airplane may not have actually reached the North Pole. Professor Gerald Newsom of Ohio State University, an astronomer who taught celestial navigation, analyzed Byrd’s handwritten notes and estimated that because of the inadequacies of the equipment then available to Byrd, Josephine Ford may have flown 21 miles (33.8 kilometers) beyond the North Pole, or fallen 78 miles (125.5 kilometers) short. Professor Newsom pointed out, though, that the fact the Byrd was able to return to Svalbard after nearly 16 hours proves that he knew how to navigate using that equipment under those conditions.
(See https://web.archive.org/web/20161216185546/http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/byrdnorth.htm for additional information.)
Josephine Ford is the first Fokker F.VIIa/3m monoplane, c/n 600. It was built by Anton H.G. Fokker’s N.V. Koninklijke Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek Fokker at Veere, Netherlands in 1925, and made its first flight at Schipol, 4 September 1925. It was demonstrated for Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V. (KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines), then disassembled and shipped to the United States. 600 was flown from New York to Detroit, where it participated in the First Annual Aerial Reliability Tour, 28 September–3 October 1925, flown by Egbert P. Lott. The airplane was evaluated by the U.S. Army Air Corps at Wright Field, and was then sold to Edsel Ford.
The United States did not register aircraft prior to 1927. According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Registry data base, FOKKER VII (TRI-MOTOR) Serial Number 600 was registered 21 June 1927 to the Ford Motor Company, Dearborn, Michigan, as NC267. The registration was cancelled 14 March 1930.
Sources vary as to the actual dimensions of the Fokker F.VIIa/3m. The Henry Ford, the museum which owns the airplane, gives its dimensions as 49.167 feet (14.986 meters) in length, with a wingspan of 63.5 feet (19.355 meters) and height of 12.75 feet (3.886 meters). Another source says that the airplane is 47 feet, 11 inches (14.605 meters) long with a wingspan of 63 feet, 4 inches (19.304 meters) and height of 12 feet, 8 inches (3.861 meters). Its empty weight is variously given as 4,630 pounds, 5,060 pounds or 6,724 pounds and maximum takeoff weight is 7,950 pounds, 8,800 pounds or 11,464 pounds. It has a cruise speed of 81 knots. Or 90. . . .
Josephine Ford was powered by three air-cooled 787¼-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) Wright Aeronautical Corporation Model J-4 Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial engines, rated at 215 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The J-4 weighed 475 pounds. (The specific variant, J-4, J-4A, or J-4B, is not known.)
Josephine Ford is in the collection of The Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan.
3 May 1952: A ski-equipped United States Air Force Douglas C-47A Skytrain, piloted by Lieutenant Colonels William P. Benedict and Joseph O. Fletcher, USAF, was the first airplane to land at the North Pole.¹ The navigator was 1st Lieutenant Herbert Thompson. Staff Sergeant Harold Turner was the flight engineer and Airman 1st Class Robert L. Wishard, the radio operator.
Also on board was Arctic research scientist Dr. Albert P. Crary and his assistant, Robert Cotell. Additional personnel were Fritza Ahl, Master Sergeant Edison T. Blair and Airman 2nd Class David R. Dobson.
Colonel Fletcher was commanding officer of the 58th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, Eielson Air Force Base, Fairbanks, Alaska. He was responsible for establishing Drift Ice Stations within the polar ice cap for remote weather observation bases. Ice Island T-3 was renamed Fletcher’s Ice Island in his honor. He became a world authority on Arctic weather and climate. Various geographic features, such as the Fletcher Abyssal Plain in the Arctic Ocean, and the Fletcher Ice Rise in the Antarctic are also named for him.
The airplane flown on this expedition was Douglas C-47A-90-DL Skytrain 43-15665.
The Douglas C-47 in the photograph below is similar to the Skytrain that Benedict and Fletcher landed at the North Pole, however it is a screen image from the RKO/Winchester Pictures Corporation motion picture, “The Thing from Another World,” which was released just one year earlier, 29 April 1951. Howard Hawks’ classic science fiction film involves an Air Force C-47 Skytrain crew that flies in support of a remote Arctic research station.
The Douglas C-47A Skytrain is an all-metal twin-engine, low wing monoplane transport with retractable landing gear. It was operated by a minimum flight crew of two pilots, a navigator and a radio operator. The wing is fully cantilevered and the fuselage is of semi-monocoque construction. Control surfaces are fabric-covered.
The C-47 is 64 feet, 5½ inches (19.647 meters) long with a wingspan of 95 feet (28.956 meters) and height of 17 feet (5.182 meters). Empty weight of the C-47A is 17,257 pounds (7,828 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 29,300 pounds (13,290 kilograms).²
The C-47A is powered by two 1,829.4-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) air-cooled, supercharged R-1830-92 (Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C3-G) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines. These were rated at 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff. The maximum continuous rating for normal operation was 1,060 horsepower at 2,550 r.pm., up to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters). Each engine drives a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed full-feathering propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) through a 16:9 gear reduction. The R-1830-92 is 48.19 inches (1.224 meters) long, 61.67 inches (1.566 meters) in diameter, and weighs 1,465 pounds (665 kilograms).
The C-47 has a cruising speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and service ceiling of 24,100 feet (7,346 meters).
The C-47-DL could carry 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms) of cargo, or 28 fully-equipped paratroopers. Alternatively, 14 patients on stretchers could be carried, along with three attendants.
43-15665 crashed on Fletcher’s Ice island 3 November 1952. It has since sunk to the floor of the Arctic Ocean.
¹ At least one source states that a Soviet expedition aboard three Lisunov Li-2 transports (a license-built Douglas DC-3) landed near the North Pole on 23 April 1948.
² Data from AAF Manual 51-129-2, Pilot Training Manual for the C-47 Skytrain
24–25 February 1957: Scandinavian Airlines System began flying regularly scheduled passenger flights from Copenhagen to Tokyo, via the North Pole, with the new Douglas DC-7C Seven Seas airliner, LN-MOD, named Guttorm Viking. The route of flight was Copenhagen, Denmark to Anchorage, Alaska, and onward to Tokyo, Japan. The airliner took of at 11:35 a.m. local time (11:35 UTC). The flight crew included Captain Hedell Hansen and Captain Kare Herfjord.
Simultaneously (8:35 p.m., 24 February), Reidar Viking, LN-MOE, took off from Tokyo, en route Copenhagen. The two airliners rendezvoused over the North Pole at 21:37, 24 February, UTC. ¹
The polar route cut 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers) and took a total of 32 hours, rather than the previous 50 hour flight. The airliner returned on February 28, after 71 hours, 6 minutes.
Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) had invited hundreds of media representatives and more than a thousand others to attend the send off fromKøbenhavns Lufthavn, Kastrup. To ensure that there were no problems to delay the departure, a second fully-fueled and serviced DC-7C was standing by.
There were 47 passengers aboard the Guttorm Viking, including Prince Axel of Denmark, and Thor Heyerdahl (Kon-Tiki). Reidar Viking carried 45, with the Prince and Princess Mikasa of Japan.
Guttorm Viking made a refueling stop at Anchorage, Alaska, landing at 2:22 a.m. (07:22 UTC, and departing on schedule at 9:00 a.m. (14:00 UTC). It landed at Tokyo at 8:15 a.m., 26 February, Japan Standard Time (23:15, 25 February, UTC), 15 minutes ahead of schedule. The elapsed time of the flight was 32 hours, 31 minutes.
Reidar Viking landed at Copenhagen at 8:45 a.m. local time, Monday 24 February (08:45, 24 February, UTC), 35 hours, 40 minutes after departing Tokyo. The airliner had to make an additional fuel stop at Oslo, Norway, because of unexpected headwinds.
The DC-7C Seven Seas was the last piston-engine airliner built by Douglas Aircraft Company, intended for non-stop transcontinental and transatlantic flights. The DC-7 combined the fuselage of a DC-6 with the wings of a DC-4. The DC-7C version had 5 feet (1.524 meters) added to the wing roots for increased fuel capacity. By moving the engines further away from the fuselage, aerodynamic drag was reduced and the passenger cabin was quieter. The DC-7 had an extra 40-inch (1.016 meters) “plug” added to the fuselage just behind the wing. The DC-7C added another 40-inch plug ahead of the wing. The engine nacelles were also lengthened to provide room for additional fuel tanks.
The DC-7C was operated by two pilots, a navigator and a flight engineer. It had a maximum capacity of 105 passengers, requiring 4 flight attendants.
The airliner was 112 feet, 3 inches (34.214 meters) long with a wingspan of 127 feet, 6 inches (38.862 meters) and an overall height of 31 feet, 10 inches (9.703 meters). The empty weight was 72,763 pounds (33,005 kilograms). The maximum takeoff weight was 143,000 pounds (64,864 kilograms).
The Seven Seas was powered by four 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, fuel-injected, turbocompound Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 988TC18EA1 or -EA3 two-row, 18-cylinder radial engines (also known as the Duplex-Cyclone), with a Normal Power rating of 2,800 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and 3,700 horsepower at 2,900 r.p.m for takeoff. (A turbocompound engine uses exhaust-driven power recovery turbines to increase power to the crankshaft through a fluid coupling. This increased the engine’s total power output by approximately 20%.) The Cyclone 18 engines drove 13 foot, 11 inch (4.242 meters) diameter, four-bladed, Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 34E60 full-feathering, reversible-pitch, constant-speed propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The 988TC18EA1 was 7 feet, 5.53 inches (2.274 meters) in long, 4 feet, 10.59 inches (1.437 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,645 pounds (1,653 kilograms).
These engines gave the airliner a cruise speed of 308 knots (354 miles per hour/570 kilometers per hour) at 23,500 feet (7,163 meters). The service ceiling was 28,400 feet (8,656 meters) and maximum range was 4,900 nautical miles (5,639 statute miles/9,075 kilometers).
Douglas built 122 DC-7C airliners from 1956 to 1958. Scandinavian Airlines System bought 14 of them. The arrival of the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 turbojet-powered airliners soon made these piston-driven propeller airliners obsolete. Many were converted to freighters, but most were scrapped after only a few years service. Guttorn Viking and Reidar Viking were both scrapped in 1968.
¹ SAS announced that the Guttorm Viking passed the North Pole at 21:37 G.M.T. and the Reidar Viking at 21:43 G.M.T. The planes met at 21:40 G.M.T.
11 June 1971: Sheila Scott O.B.E. (née Sheila Christine Hopkins) departed Nairobi, Kenya, on her third solo around-the-world flight. On this flight she used a new airplane, a twin-engine Piper PA-23-250 Aztec D which she named Mythre. It carried United Kingdom registration G-AYTO. Scott used a NASA navigation and locator communication system to constantly relay her position to a Nimbus weather satellite, and from there to a ground station.
Sheila Scott planned to not only fly around the world, but to fly from the Equator, over the North Pole, and back to the Equator again. She flew her Aztec from London, England, to Nairobi, Kenya, where she began the Equator–North Pole–Equator portion of the flight.
Scott took off from Nairobi on 11 June 1971 and headed northward to Khartoum, Sudan; Bengazi, Libya; Malta; arriving back at London on 21 June. From there she continued to Bodø, Norway; Andøya, Norway; Station Nord, Greenland; across the North Pole on 28 June; then southward to Barrow, Alaska; arriving at Anchorage, Alaska, on 3 July; San Francisco, California, to Honolulu, Hawaii, on 11 July. She recrossed the Equator heading south to Canton Island. On 23 July, Mythre arrived at Nadi, Viti Levu, Fiji, and then flew on to Noumea, New Caledonia. After a stop at Townsville, Queensland, Scott arrived at Darwin, Northern Teritory, Australia, 1 August. From there she continued to Singapore; Madras, India; Karachi, Pakistan; Bahrain; Athens, Greece; and finally completed her journey at London on 4 August. The trip took 55 days.
During the circumnavigation, Sheila Scott set seven Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed Over a Recognized Course: Andøya, Norway, to Station Nord, Greenland, 213.61 kilometers per hour (132.73 miles per hour) ¹; Nord to Barrow, Alaska, 183.73 km/h (114.16 mph) ²; San Francisco, California, to Honolulu, Hawaii, 236.56 km/h (146.99 mph) ³; Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, to London, England, 160.19 km/h (99.54mph). ⁴ Three of these records remain current. ⁵
Ms. Scott’s airplane was a 1971 Piper 23-250 Aztec (“Aztec D”), serial number 27-4568. The airplane was assigned the United Kingdom registration G-AYTO on 3 March 1971. The Aztec D was a six-place twin-engine light airplane based on the earlier PA-23-235 Apache, with a larger cabin and more powerful engines. It was of all-metal construction and had retractable tricycle landing gear. The Aztec D is 31 feet, 2.625 inches (9.516 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1.750 inches (11.322 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 3.875 inches (3.146 meters). The wing has 5° dihedral. It has an empty weight of 3,042 pounds (1,380 kilograms) and a gross weight of 5,200 pounds (2,359 kilograms).
The Aztec D is powered by two air-cooled, fuel-injected, 541.511-cubic-inch-displacement (8.874 liter) AVCO Lycoming IO-540-C4B5 6-cylinder, horizontally-opposed, direct-drive engines. The -C4B5 has a compression ratio of 8.5:1 and a Maximum Continuous Power/Takeoff rating of 250 horsepower at 2,575 r.p.m. It weighs 374 pounds (170 kilograms). The engines drive two-bladed Hartzell constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 6 feet, 2 inches (1.880 meters).
The PA-23-250 Aztec D has a maximum structural cruising speed (VNO) of 172 knots (198 miles per hour/319 kilometers per hour) at 7,500 feet (2,286 meters) and maximum speed (VNE) of 216 knots 249 miles per hour (400 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 19,800 feet (6,035 meters). With standard fuel capacity of 144 gallons (545 liters) the airplane’s range is 1,055 miles (1,698 kilometers). Mythre carried an auxiliary fuel tank in the passenger cabin.
After the around-the-world flight, Scott returned Mythre to the Piper Aircraft Company at Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, for overhaul. Following Tropical Storm Agnes in June 1972, the Piper factory was flooded to a depth of 16 feet (4.9 meters) and Scott’s airplane, along with many others and much of the tooling for aircraft manufacture, was destroyed.
This painting is available from the Guild of Aviation Artists at: