Eugene Rodgers on: Byrd's Motivation to Fly Over Antarctica
Q: Why do you think Byrd wanted to be the first to fly over the South Pole?
First of all he would have gotten his place in history being the first over the
North Pole, but can you tell us that, and then go on?
ER: I think Byrd wanted to fly over the South Pole to make a statement about
aviation. We must remember that back in these days, aviation was just getting
started. It was the high tech industry of the day. It was to the 1920s what
computers and the Internet are today. Byrd was trying to prove that aviation
could work to the betterment of mankind. People then mostly remembered
aviation as a tool of World War I, and they thought airplanes were for
destruction and they couldn't contribute to mankind. Byrd thought otherwise.
He passionately believed in this. And he would speak for hours to friends
about the impact of aviation on civilization. He wanted to prove that aviation
could do great things. One way that Byrd and other aviators of the time did
this was to show, to get publicity for aviation by showing how airplanes could
travel from a place here to a place a thousand miles away without stopping or
cross an ocean or cross a Pole. So Byrd flew to the North Pole, or tried to,
that's controversial. And got headlines and publicized aviation. And then ah,
he decided to fly to the South Pole. Now we've got to remember that at this
time polar exploration was still a big thing. The days of Peary who discovered
the North Pole, Amundsen who discovered the South Pole were only a few years
really away. So people remembered the, the tragedies and the heartbreak and
the injuries that happened from people trying to discover the Poles. How long
it took them, the hardships they underwent. Byrd reasoned that if he could fly
to the South Pole and back in one day in relative comfort and accomplish what
the old explorers had taken weeks or months to do that this would gain great
publicity for aviation and incidentally for himself. So this was the reason
for the South Polar flight. Today we say, oh, everybody flies to the Pole.
You go over the Pole when you're on your way to Japan, for example. What's the
big deal about flying over a Pole? But in those rickety airplanes of the 1920s
it was a very big deal. Flying over the South Pole was a tremendous