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Bess Balchen Urbahn on: Bernt Balchen and the Flight of the Josephine Ford
Bess Balchen Q: In 1926, who was Bernt Balchen, what kind of man and what were his skills.

BESS: Bernt Balchen was a Lieutenant in the Norwegian Air Force.


Q: Who was he? What were his skills at that time? What kind of man was he and what did he want out of his life, at that point?

BESS: I guess like every other youth Bernt Balchen wanted everything out of his life, at the time. He was a flyer and a very good pilot and he also was a very handy person. He could do practically anything with his two hands and he was an excellent skier and he was a boxer and an all around athlete.


Q: How did he help Richard Byrd with the Josephine Ford? They were having a lot of trouble taking off and Bernt came to the rescue.

BESS: That's correct, Bernt Balchen made new skis for Byrd's plane. He was ordered by either Amundsen or another one of the people on the Amundsen expedition to repair Byrd's skis, which he did. And if Bernt Balchen hadn't repaired the Josephine Ford's skis, Byrd couldn't have taken off.


Q: What did he have to do to the skis?

BESS: The skis on the Josephine Ford broke when Byrd landed and he didn't know how to repair them and nobody did but Bernt did, and he did it. He was ordered to repair them, by somebody higher up on the Amundsen expedition.


Q: What happened when Bennett and Balchen were flying together on the Josephine Ford?

BESS: Bernt, as always, and he did this, as long as I can remember, he always kept a very careful log and he did it this time and it he realized that the plane wasn't as fast as it was supposed to be and he knew that something was wrong, that it couldn't have reached the Pole and he figured and he figured and finally asked Bennett about it. The only two people who definitely knew about the plane's performance were Floyd Bennett and Bernt Balchen, nobody else did. They can discuss it until doomsday, the facts are there definitely. You cannot discuss it. The plane did not make the Pole, period.


Q: Why did Balchen feel the plane had not made the Pole? Can you make that clear? It didn't go fast enough? They weren't away long enough?

BESS: They went away, when the Josephine Ford left Spitsbergen, of course the time, I don't remember what time it left but it was gone for 15 and a half hours and given the drag of the skis and the speed that the plane made, it just wasn't enough time to reach the Pole from Spitsbergen.


Q: In his accounts of the North Pole flight, what credit did Byrd give Balchen for his role and how did Balchen feel about it?

BESS: To the best of my knowledge, Byrd never gave Bernt Balchen any credit, for what he had done, at least officially. What he did was to ask him to come with him, to America, which Bernt, my husband, thought was praise enough because he was young and he was adventuresome and he thought this was a great opportunity.

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