Race to the Top of the World: Richard Byrd and the First Flight to the North Pole

Race to the Top of the World: Richard Byrd and the First Flight to the North Pole

Language: English

Pages: 328

ISBN: 1621570827

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In the age of adventure, when dirigibles coasted through the air and vast swaths of the Earth remained untouched and unseen by man, one pack of relentless explorers competed in the race of a lifetime: to be the first aviator to fly over the North Pole. What inspired their dangerous fascination? For some, it was the romantic theory about a “lost world,” a hidden continent in the Arctic Ocean. Others were seduced by new aviation technology, which they strove to push to its ultimate limit. The story of their quest is breathtaking and inspiring; the heroes are still a matter of debate.

It was the 1920s. The main players in this high stakes game were Richard Byrd, a dashing Navy officer and early aviation pioneer; and Roald Amundsen, a Viking in the sky, bitter rival of Byrd’s and a hardened veteran of polar expeditions. Each man was determined to be the first aviator to fly over the North Pole, despite brutal weather conditions, financial disasters, world wars, and their own personal demons. Byrd and Amundsen’s epic struggle for air primacy ended in a Homeric episode, in which one man had to fly to the rescue of his downed nemesis, and left behind an enduring mystery: who was the first man to fly over the North Pole?

Race to the Top of the World: Richard Byrd and the First Flight to the North Pole is a fast-paced, larger-than-life adventure story from Sheldon Bart, the only historian with unprecedented access to Richard Byrd’s personal archives. With powerful, never-before-seen evidence of the race to pioneer one of Earth’s last true frontiers, Race to the Top of the World is a story of a day when men were heroes and the wild was untamed.

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“ridiculous stories” in the press.7 “Our last talk,” he said, “settled everything.” With this off his mind, he settled down to business. He and Oertel were such efficient managers that Byrd was able to leave the details of running the ship to them and Captain Brennan. While Bennett worked on the plane, Byrd worked out a flight plan for the long hop to Peary Land and the Pole. Peary had reached the northern tip of Greenland in 1900 and thought he had found an island. A quarter-century later, no

the Polar Sea. As the airplane picked up speed, however, one of the wheels struck a mound of soft earth and the plane flipped halfway over on one side. The occupants were unharmed, but the Alaskan was wrecked. Wilkins had one airplane left. At about 4:00 a.m. on May 7, the Heimdal blew a siren to rouse the Amundsen expedition. A radiogram had been received from Nobile; the Norge was on her way. The ground crew assembled to receive the airship. It had snowed all night, and the sky remained

knew better than to buck an angry Congress over an Arctic expedition. The transpolar flight was indefinitely suspended. 3 ANOTHER DOOR OPENS I have been dreaming all winter of a trans-polar flight. RICHARD E. BYRD1 When a door shuts, it is said, few people “realize that it is at that time that they might instead be looking at another door opening or preparing to open one.”2 Dick Byrd was one of the few who always seemed to be aware of the other door. His friends sensed this. He

to REB, received August 19, 1925, as well as REB’s response composed the same day, were found inserted between the August 18 and 19 pages of the Byrd diary, 1925–1927. MacMillan on REB: Memorandum of a conversation between Donald B. MacMillan, George Palmer Putnam, and Fitzhugh Green, April 27, 1926, Fitzhugh Green Papers, Georgetown University, Box 1, folder 16. 1 MacMillan, annotated diary, 29. 2 New York Times, August 6, 1925. 3 New York Times, August 13, 1925. 4 MacMillan, annotated

could only carry so much fuel and, in consequence, could only fly so long and so far. “Airplanes would be all right,” Amundsen told the press, if they could cross the Polar Sea without having to land.7 But if you had to put them down on a shifting icefield, he said, to refuel or make celestial observations, “there would always be grave doubt whether they could get up again.” He had also found it impossible to shoot the sun with precision in a plane cruising at close to a hundred miles an hour.

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