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Lisle Rose on: Being the First to the North Pole
Lisle Rose Q: What did it mean for Byrd to be the first to fly to the pole?

LR: Byrd had to be first in anything he did. I think he felt always that it wasn't worth doing unless he was the first person to do it. He was the first boy from Winchester and probably from Virginia ever to go to the Philippines and go around the world at the age of 12. He had to be first at things. Again, you don't do what everybody else has done, even what one other person has done. You do the single gesture that nothing, that no one else has done before, flying to the North Pole, flying to the South Pole, flying with a much larger airplane and three or four other people to Paris instead of just doing it on your own. The sort of thing that would make a distinctive mark in the world that he would be remembered by. No one will ever take away from Dick Byrd the fact that he was the first person ever to fly to the South Pole along with three other companions. But he was the one who made that trip, he was the one who set himself up and defined the trip as something that he alone had done. And this meant everything in the world to him. It was what he was.

Q: What were the pressures on Byrd to make it to the Pole? Wasn't he in debt?

LR: Well, flying to the North Pole was a real make or break problem for Dick Byrd, because, first of all he had made a big deal about this. He had gotten a great deal of money, he had generated a large amount, necessarily generated a large amount of publicity in order to get the money. This was also a time, and you want to remember this was a time of real spread eagle nationalism in a lot of the country. The Americans were going up against the Scandinavians. And the Arctic had always been a Scandinavian preserve. And the polar regions had. Scandinavian and British, those were the people who had really done a lot of work in the Arctic region, Peary and Cook were kind of interlopers in that sense. So again it was the United States against the world and so on. And Dick Byrd had exploited this attitude. At the same time he knew very little, nobody knew anything, no one was an expert in polar flying, in heavier than air machines. For example, at Spitsbergen he had some very serious problems with overload of the plane, with trying to get it off the ground. They cracked up once, they busted a ski. There was serious question for a moment as to whether or not they had actually busted up the airframe to the point where it was unflyable. So here's a guy who's facing a real crisis, he's several thousand dollars, more than several thousand dollars in debt. He's got radio contracts, the press is on him, to be the great, polar hero. And he's up there in Spitsbergen with what may be a busted airplane and frankly not a great deal of understanding of what the requirements and demands and risks of polar flying were. He knew them generally but he didn't know them specifically until he began the operation itself and found out how difficult it was.

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