May 9

This Day in History

General Interest

May 9, 1926:

Byrd flies over the North Pole?

According to their claims, polar explorer Richard E. Byrd and co-pilot Floyd Bennett fly over the North Pole on this day in the Josephine Ford, a triple-engine Fokker monoplane. It would have been the first time an aircraft flew over the top of the world. The pair had taken off from Spitsbergen, Norway, and reportedly covered the 1,545-mile trip to the pole and back in 15 hours and 30 minutes. For the achievement, both men were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and acclaimed as national heroes.

The discovery in 1996 of the diary that Byrd had kept on his famous flight seemed to suggest that he and Bennett may have turned back 150 miles short of the pole because of an oil leak. If so, Italian adventurer Umberto Nobile, American Lincoln Ellsworth, and Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen (who was in 1911 the first person to reach the South Pole by land) would receive the credit for their airship flight over the North Pole on May 12, 1926, three days after Fletcher and Byrd's flight.

Nevertheless, Byrd's place in polar exploration is firmly set; in 1929, he established a U.S. base in Antarctica and late in the same year, accompanied by aviator Bernt Balchen, he made the undisputed first aircraft flight over the South Pole.

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