History Podcasts

Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Polar Polymath

Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Polar Polymath

A little boy born in Winchester, Virginia, in 1888, grew up to become an air navigator, explorer, Medal of Honor winner, rear admiral, polar researcher, and author.Richard E. He then became a cadet in Navy Flying School at Pensacola, Florida, and graduated in 1917.During World War I, Lieutenant Byrd commanded an air station in Nova Scotia. Commander.Early explorationIn 1925, Byrd and Donald MacMillan led a naval air unit on an expedition to Greenland, using Navy airplanes and volunteers. The venture was financed by Edsel Ford and John D. Rockefeller.Byrd's first trek to the Arctic occurred on May 9, 1926. Using a Fokker tri-motor aircraft, the Josephine Ford, pilot Floyd Bennett and navigator Byrd left the King's Bay base at Spitzbergen, Norway, and (allegedly) flew over the North Pole. This venture also was privately financed and used volunteers.One month after the 1927 Lindbergh triumph in the Spirit of St. Louis, the Transatlantic Flight of America, comprising Byrd and a three-man crew (Noville, Acosta, and Balchen), flew across the Pond in another Fokker tri-motor. The commander and crew were unhurt.Antarctic explorationAdmiral Byrd set his sights on Antarctica. During his first (privately financed) expedition ('28-30), he and his men established the Little America research base. In 1929, pilot Bernt Balchen and Byrd flew the Floyd Bennett Ford tri-motor over the South Pole. After completing this expedition, Byrd was promoted to rear admiral.Admiral Byrd returned to Antarctica ('33-35). Byrd became ill with carbon monoxide poisoning, owing to a malfunctioning stove, but didn't call for help. Poulter (the expedition's second in command) rescued him. An autobiographical account, Alone, became a bestseller.On his third Antarctic trip ('39-41): the U.S. Antarctic Service expedition, Admiral Byrd conducted more flights and discovered the southern limit of the Pacific Ocean. This mission was government financed.From 1946 to 1947, Byrd commanded Operation Highjump, to map large areas of Antarctic territory. The admiral also made a second flight over the pole.In 1955, Byrd directed Operation Deep Freeze, to provide logistical preparations for the first phase of U.S. operations in the Antarctic during the International Geophysical Year ('57-58). Byrd was "Officer in Charge," but not in command. In 1956, Admiral Byrd made his final flight over the pole.The end of the trailAdmiral Byrd died at home of a heart ailment in 1957 at age 69. Byrd had completed two Arctic and five Antarctic expeditions, and charted an estimated two million square miles.