1st Guy to Fly Over North Pole Actually ... Missed
Explorer Richard Byrd probably wasn't first, though he got within sight: study
By Michael Franco, Newser Staff
Posted Apr 16, 2013 6:13 PM CDT
A sign warning of polar bears is seen outside of Longyearbyen, Norway, as far north as you can fly on a scheduled flight. It is less than 620 miles from the North Pole.   (AP Photo/John McConnico)

(Newser) – American explorer Richard Byrd gained renown 87 years ago when he became the first guy to fly over the North Pole, but a new report thinks he might have missed the mark by as much as 80 miles. As LiveScience reports, there's long been doubt cast on Byrd's 15-hour, 44-minute flight from Spitsbergen, Norway, which had been expected to take 18 hours. So retired Ohio State astronomy professor Gerald Newsom waded into Byrd's own navigation notes, which he found wanting. "I would have thought he'd have pages and pages of calculations," says Newsom, but Byrd apparently did some "all in his head."

So while Newsom's findings suggest Byrd undershot the Pole, he thinks it was a result of poor technology rather than ill intentions: Working in a freezing cockpit, Byrd relied on a solar compass, tracked atmospheric pressure with a tiny barograph, and measured speed with a stopwatch—via an opening in the plane's bottom. All while trying to avoid crashing and frostbite. Newsom says that Byrd likely saw the North Pole, given that his altitude provided 90-mile-long visibility, but the real record would belong to Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian who made the trip just days after Byrd. Nevertheless, "that they returned at all is a major accomplishment," he says.

View 1 more image
More From Newser
My Take on This Story
To report an error on this story,
notify our editors.
1st Guy to Fly By North Pole, Er, Missed By 80 Miles is...
12%
69%
4%
6%
2%
7%
Show results without voting
You Might Like
Comments
Showing 3 of 10 comments
DarkFrancis
Apr 17, 2013 12:09 PM CDT
Ah yes, the obscure Roald Amundsen, known for nothing other than being the first man to the SOUTH POLE.
JackNelsonSteward
Apr 17, 2013 5:45 AM CDT
OK ... so he wasn't using Apple Maps ... ?
Edgar
Apr 17, 2013 12:45 AM CDT
So, how do they know he calculated wrong ?