Q: How much of a threat was Wilkens to Byrd on the South Pole flight, and
how much did it prompt him to get in the air quickly?
ER: When Byrd was preparing to go to fly to the South Pole, he learned that
Eubert Wilkens, Sir Eubert Wilkens was also making an airplane expedition to
Antarctica, and just might fly to the South Pole. Byrd had heard that Hearst
had offered Wilkens $50,000 to beat Byrd to the South Pole. So Byrd was under
a tremendous amount of pressure not only to get to the Pole in the first place,
but to beat Wilkens to the Pole. I mean after all, the first man to fly to the
South Pole would be the one to get all the honors. If Byrd were second, he
would get nothing.
So Byrd felt he had to beat Wilkens. And as the time approached for the South
Polar flight, Byrd kept careful track of what Wilkens was doing. And he
realized that Wilkens was about to fly. So Byrd felt that I'd better fly as
soon as I can. So although Byrd was normally cautious and very conservative
about when he flew, taking the utmost precautions and not flying until the
weather was almost perfect, he realized that this time he had to take some
chance or he'd be the loser. He'd be like Amundsen, like Scott was when
Amundsen reached the North Pole. Scott was second. Scott did not get credit
for the discovery. Byrd did not want to be second, he wanted to be first. So
yes, he felt under great pressure and took off for the South Pole sooner than
he would have liked under conditions that weren't ideal.