50th anniversary of Byrd's historic flight

signed poster for the 50th anniversary flight
A poster at Pole commemorating the event, signed by many of the participants of the 1979 DV trip.

At 1528 on 28 November 1929 (UTC; 0412 29 November UTC+13/the summer time zone now used by McMurdo and Pole), Richard E. Byrd departed Little America aboard the Ford trimotor aircraft "Floyd Bennett." It was piloted by Bernt Balchen, with Harold June as copilot/radio operator, Ashley McKinley as aerial photographer, with Byrd as navigator. They flew south, and at 0114 UTC/1414 SP time they radioed Little America that they'd passed over the South Pole. They then returned north, altered their route to pass over the Axel Heiberg Glacier, landed to refuel at a cache at the foot of Liv Glacier, and returned to Little America at 1008 UTC/2308 SP time on 29 November. For more details and references on this historic flight, see this excellent article by NSF historian Henry Dater from the November/December 1969 Antarctic Journal.

Bob Breyer celebrating at PoleIn more recent times it became popular to commemorate Byrd's South Pole flight... interestingly, one of the first of these, supposedly marking the 40th anniversary of the flight, happened with the Polar Byrd flight around the world which actually happened 39 years after Byrd's flight. A 45th anniversary flight was conducted by VXE-6 in November 1974--this flight included an airdrop at Pole, and one of the items dropped was an American flag, displayed in the photo at right by Robert Byrd Breyer, Admiral Byrd's grandson. Robert was working as a H&N employee--as an insulator...he spent lots of time working in the utilidor of the new station seen in the background.

In 1979, plans were made for a major commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Byrd's flight. Accordingly, a group of about 25 DV's left Christchurch for McMurdo on 28 November. The group included two former members of Byrd's 1928-30 expedition--Laurence McKinley Gould (then age 83), the geologist and chief scientist on Byrd's first 1928-30 expedition (photo from Carleton College with a link to more photos), and dog handler Norman Vaughan (then age 84)...as well as Senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr., of Virginia (Admiral Byrd's nephew), and Robert Byrd Breyer. Other visitors included members of the National Science Board including chairman Norman Hackerman, and other NSF senior staff. The 50th anniversary commemorative flight had been scheduled for the next day (the 29th).

But...it turned out that the C-141 carrying the DV's south had departed ChCh about 45 minutes behind an Air New Zealand DC-10 tourist flight to Antarctica...TE901 (which had departed from Auckland). The C-141 flight crew had been in touch with the ANZ flight, but could not contact that flight as they neared McMurdo. By the time the C-141 landed, TE901 had been reported missing...and the Air Force plane returned to ChCh retracing its route to search for possible debris.

VXE-6 aircraft XD-01, to be piloted by CDR Jack Paulus, had been scheduled for the 50th anniversary flight to Pole on the 29th. But...when the DV group assembled at the Chalet for their morning briefing, they learned of the tragic DC-10 crash on the lower slope of Mt. Erebus. And XD-01, as well as XD-03 piloted by CDR Paulus, had been involved in the search efforts and were, of course, unavailable. Larry Gould then suggested that the group prepare to head back to Christchurch as the people in McMurdo "had a job to do." The group attended a memorial service for the crash victims in the McMurdo chapel at noon. Following the service, Dr. Norman Hackerman announced that a ceremony would be held at 1400 at McM to carry out the ceremony that had been scheduled for Pole. Meanwhile, another member of Congress in the group (not Byrd) said he still wanted to visit Pole. Accordingly, arrangements were made for a flight on the next day (30 November). This was a more routine supply flight piloted by CDR Jack Paulus. About 10 of the 25 members of the DV group participated, including Senator Byrd, Robert Breyer, and Norman Vaughan. Larry Gould did not go.

When the flight returned to McMurdo, the DV's immediately boarded a waiting C-141 for the return trip to Christchurch.

Below, two other images of the commemorative poster:

the signed Byrd flight poster
Here's an older (January 2004) look at the framed poster from Seth White.
poster marking the 50th anniversary flight
An unmarked original poster. Note that some of the border seen here is obscured by the frame in the Pole photos.
The flight was also commemorated at Pole, although I don't know the source of this sign:
large sign on the side of the science building
This large sign was on the science building in 1980 (photo from Mike Savage).
another view of the sign on the science building
The sign stayed around awhile...this photo is from the DF-81 Navy cruisebook.
Other sources and credits...the signed poster photo at the top of this page was taken by me during my 2005 winter, at that time this was displayed in the pool room in the dome. The photo of Robert Byrd Breyer waving the flag at Pole is courtesy Billy-Ace Baker. The unmarked original poster is from this New Zealand History government page.