Q: Can you, maybe just describe the first attempts and failures to get off
the ground. What was happening to the plane?|
LR: Well, they, they went, they took off down a slope at one point and just
couldn't get off the ground. The problem was the plane was overloaded and it
was nose heavy. Again, all of these questions of weight distribution and so
on, that, all of these people were working out the air mail pilots flying
across the American mountains were working on these problems, everybody was. I
mean this was a tremendously risky time. A tremendously dangerous enterprise
that Byrd had undertaken. And he just didn't and his colleagues just didn't
know the dimensions of all the problems they faced until they had to do it.
And that's where Byrd almost came a cropper, and his career as a great aviation
and polar explorer could have ended right there at Spitsbergen, as I say if
that, in that crash, which in fact just busted a ski, the whole plane might
have been damaged and you'd have had to scrub the whole operation and Byrd
would have come back to the United States not in disgrace, but certainly as
someone who had failed. And failed in something that he had made a great deal
of noise that he was not going to fail in. So his career was really on the
line right at its threshold point.
Q: Great. How difficult was that flight? How arduous was it?
LR: Well, it required a great deal of sense in polar navigation. Byrd had
always been a superb navigator, and he had developed some aerial navigation
devices as early back -- as Pensacola days. So you constantly had to keep
track of your route. The problem of drift off, substantial drift off was
always there. You had to constantly keep an eye, and make sure you were
heading directly toward the Pole, because the tendency would have been with
magnetic compasses to swing off the direction there. The plane itself was
pretty sturdy for the time. But again it was still a very new technology.
This was a time when planes were failing frequently. Floyd Bennett, the
pilot was a superb young naval enlisted man and an excellent pilot. But the
major point was that if you went down there was very little chance of rescue
for quite a time. There was eventual opportunities for rescue, if you could
last for three or four weeks they might find you. But basically you were
really on your own out in the middle of a howling wilderness.
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