A Moment in Air Force History

***image1***When did the first successful North Pole landing by aircraft occur?

A. 1926.
B. 1929.
C. 1869.
D. 1952

Answer: D. On May 3, 1952, a ski and wheel equipped U.S. Air Force C-47 Skytrain from Thule Air Base, Greenland made the world’s first successful North Pole landing. Lt. Col. William Benedict and Lt. Col. Joseph Fletcher landed the aircraft on an ice island designated T-3 as part of a scientific expedition called Project ICICLE. Lieutenant Colonel Fletcher climbed out of the aircraft and walked to the exact geographic North Pole. He was probably the first person to do so. The island was renamed “Fletcher’s Ice Island.” In the early 19th century, American explorers Robert Peary and Dr. Frederick Cook both claimed to have reached the pole by land. Each disputed the others claim. In 1911, Congress recognized Peary’s claim. However, whether Peary actually reached the North Pole is still in dispute.

Did You Know? In 1869, the poem “Santa Claus and His Works” by George P. Webster identified Santa Claus’ home as near the North Pole. On May 9,1926, Admiral Richard E. Byrd, United States Navy and Floyd Bennet (USN enlisted pilot) completed the first flight over the North Pole in a Fokker C-2 Tri-motor, taking off and landing from the Norwegian island of Spitzbergen. On Nov. 29, 1929, Admiral Byrd and Lt. Bernt Balchen (Norwegian Air Force) made the first flight over the South Pole in a Ford C-4 Tri-motor named for Bennet who had died of pneumonia in 1928. Balchen joined the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1941 and retired as a colonel in 1956.

(Courtesy of 435th Air Base Wing and 86th Airlift Wing History offices)