Little Bits of History

North Pole Flyover

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 12, 2015
Norge airship in flight, 1926

Norge airship in flight, 1926

May 12, 1926: The first flyover of the North Pole takes place. Norge was the first N-class semi-rigid airship designed by Umberto Nobile. Construction began in 1923 and as part of the specifications, the airship had to be able to withstand arctic conditions. The envelope was reinforced by metal frames at both ends and had a flexible tubular metal keel connecting them. The keel was covered with fabric and used for storage and crew space. Beneath the keel were three engine gondolas and a separate control cabin. It was also the first Italian semi-rigid airship to use the cruciform tail fins developed by the Schütte-Lanz company. The airship remained the property of Umberto Nobile and his company. Her maiden flight was in March 1924 under the designation of N-1. Her first flight as the rechristened Norge was in April 1926.

Roald Amundsen contacted Umberto Nobile, the ship’s pilot and they along with American explorer Lincoln Ellsworth and the Aero Club of Norway, planned a trip over the polar ice cap. The trip, known as the Amundsen-Ellsworth 1926 Transpolar Flight, began to take shape. Since the Aero Club was financing the trip as well as the modifications necessary to make the ship safe in the frigid arctic temperatures, the ship’s name was changed to Norge, or Norway in English. A ceremony at Ciampino Aerodrome in Rome on March 26, 1926 turned the airship over to the Aero Club of Norway. The flight north was scheduled to begin on April 6 but was delayed due to rough weather.

The airship left Rome at 9.25 AM on April 10. It arrived at RNAS Pullham Airship Station in England at 5.20 PM but due to bad weather could not be hangared until 6.30 PM. With more bad weather, it was not until 11.45 AM on April 12 that Norge could leave for the journey to Oslo. On April 15 at 1 AM, Norge left Oslo for Leningrad. The trip took 17 hours because of delays caused by foggy conditions. The ship then underwent a scheduled overhaul and maintenance which included the boarding of collapsible rubber boats for emergency use. The mast at King’s Bay in Spitzbergen was not ready and so the trip was delayed for another week until there was a place to land. They finally were able to leave at 9.40 AM on May 5 and headed for Vadsø in northern Norway.

When they finally reached King’s Bay, Nobile ran into Richard Byrd preparing his Fokker for his own attempt to fly over the North Pole. Norge was to observe the uncharted sea between the Pole and Alaska. Nobile believed at the time that Byrd had already flown over the Pole. The 16-man expedition left on their historic trip at 9.55 AM on May 11. At 1.25 AM (GMT) they passed over the Pole and dropped American, Italian, and Norwegian flags onto the ice below. The ice growing on the outside of the airship was adding weight and making it less semi-rigid. On May 14, the Norge reached Alaska and landed at Teller. The ship was damaged and disassembled to return to Italy. Although others made dubious claims to passing over the North Pole first, Norge is believed to be the first to actually do so.

The ice forming on the propellers as we went through the fog, and hurled against the underside of the bag, had pretty well scarred up the fabric covering the keel, though it had not opened up the gas bags or caused any hydrogen loss. We had used up all our cement in repairing the fabric. – Umberto Nobile

Personally, I regard alcohol, used in moderation, as a medicine in the Polar regions. – Roald Amundsen

For scientific leadership, give me Scott; for swift and efficient travel, Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems to be no way out, get on your knees and pray for Shackleton. – Sir Raymond Priestley

The Arctic is an ocean. The southern pole is a continent surrounded by ocean. The North Pole is an ocean, or northern waters. It’s an ocean surrounded by land, basically. – Sylvia Earle

Also on this day: ¿Yo quiero Taco Bell? – In 1989 Joe Valdez Caballero dies.
Strike! – In 1950, the American Bowling Congress dropped the white males only requirement for membership.
Dvorak v. QWERTY – In 1936, the Dvorak keyboard was patented.
Higher Education – In 1551, The Major National University of San Marcos was established.
Ice Saint – In 304, Pancras of Rome was beheaded.

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