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History of Flight Online Extra

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Richard E. Byrd: First to Fly Above the Poles
Photograph by Maynard Owen Williams

Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd, recently [1953] elected a Life Trustee of the National Geographic Society, was first to make polar exploration by plane. From the air he discovered more than a million square miles (2.6 million square kilometers) of the earth's area.
In 1925, with Comdr. Donald B. MacMillan, he flew some 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers) on an Arctic expedition sponsored by The Society in co-operation with the U. S. Navy. Next year he and Floyd Bennett flew from Spitsbergen to the North Pole and back.
After hopping the Atlantic in Lindbergh's wake, Byrd led the first of his expeditions to Antarctica and in 1929 circled the South Pole with three companions.
Planning his first Arctic expedition, Byrd asked the late Albert H. Bumstead, The Society's chief cartographer, for help in constructing a device that would simplify navigation in areas where the North Magnetic Pole made magnetic compasses useless.  Mr. Bumstead solved the major problem in his home workshop, designing and building the Bumstead sun compass, here held by Byrd. The explorer returned it after his North Pole flight in 1926 with this inscription: "To Albert H. Bumstead—for getting us there!"

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