J. N. Portney

Peer Reviewed

Abstract: This article was written in defense of Byrd’s claim of making the first flight over the pole. In a recent book entitled Oceans, Poles and Aimzen, the author, Richard Montague, gained world-wide attention when he gathered information denouncing the flight as a fraud. He relied on Bernt Balchen (who accompanied Byrd on his South Pole trip) and G. H. Liljequist, a Swedish meteorologist for his data. Balchen had established the no-wind speed of the Fokker Tri-motor (Josephine Ford) as being about 75 knots and too slow to make it to the pole and back in the recorded 15 and a half hours. Liljequist had resurrected the meteorological data of the period to show that the flight took place in an essentially no-wind atmosphere and with a 75 knot no-wind speed it was impossible to make it to the pole and back in the recorded elapsed time. Balchen’s source of information that the flight was a fraud was Floyd Bennett who reportedly admitted that an oil leak detected early in flight caused Byrd to abort the polar quest and remain aloft for 14 hours in the vicinity of Spitzbergen and then land and claim the polar conquest. Bennett died shortly after the admission. Byrd described the leak as being detected shortly before the polar transit too late to turn around. According to Byrd the leak stopped shortly after the beginning of the in-bound leg. Montague claims that the navigation was “backed in” on the ground (euphemistically referred to as the Dubhe, Deneb and Dallas technique) after the flight. Dubhe, Deneb and Dallas, the flight was not. To shoot down the historical achievement on the basis of questionable Metro is in my opinion a mistake. Our error analysis will show, with 95 percent certainty, that Byrd made it to within 52 nautical miles of the pole (which is only twice the error that a one N.M. CEP inertial Navigation system would incur after 8 and a half hours with 95 percent confidence). If we consider the error as short, then we eliminate the problem of the wind variance between the Metro and deduced. It is indeed unfortunate that Montague, Balchen and Liljequist place the Fokker Tri-motor at the pole precisely and then show that it could not happen and therefor - did it happen? Byrd’s navigation at best was the state of the art of the Twenties and at worst was twice the error of today’s inertial navigation systems.
Published in: NAVIGATION: Journal of the Institute of Navigation, Volume 20, Number 3
Pages: 208 - 218
Cite this article: Portney, J. N., "THE POLAR FLAP-BYRD'S FLIGHT CONFIRMED", NAVIGATION: Journal of The Institute of Navigation, Vol. 20, No. 3, Fall 1973, pp. 208-218.
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