Richard E. Byrd

Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, USN (October 25, 1888March 11, 1957) was an pioneering American polar explorer and famous aviator.



Byrd attended the University of Virginia before financial circumstances inspired his transfer and graduation from the United States Naval Academy. He learned to fly in World War I during his tour with the United States Navy. He developed a passion for flight, and pioneered many techniques for navigating airplanes over the open ocean including drift indicators and bubble sextants. His expertise in this area resulted in his appointment to plan the flight path for the U.S. Navy's 1919 transatlantic crossing. Of the three flying boats that attempted it, only Albert Read's aircraft the NC-4 completed the trip; becoming the first ever transatlantic flight.

Missing image
Bust of Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd at McMurdo Station.

Attempt to fly over the North Pole, 1926

On May 9, 1926, Byrd and Floyd Bennett attempted a flight over the North Pole. They claimed to have achieved the pole, however subsequent evidence from their diaries and mechanical analysis of their plane confirmed by the Norwegian-American aviator and explorer Bernt Balchen has cast significant doubt on their claim. Nonetheless, this trip earned Byrd widespread acclaim, enabling him to secure funding for subsequent attempts on the South Pole.

First Antarctic expedition, 1928-1930

In 1928, Byrd began his first expedition to the Antarctic involving two ships and three airplanes. A base camp was constructed on the Ross Ice Shelf and scientific expeditions by dog-sled, snowmobile, and airplane began. Photographic expeditions and geological surveys were undertaken for the duration of that summer, and constant radio communications were maintained with the outside world. After their first winter their expeditions were resumed and on November 29, 1929 the famous flight to the South Pole was launched. Byrd, along with pilot Bernt Balchen co-pilot / radioman Harold June and photographer Ashley McKinley flew the Floyd Bennet to the South Pole and back in 18 hours, 41 minutes. They had difficulty gaining altitude, and had to dump empty gas tanks as well as their emergency supplies in order to achieve the altitude of the Polar Plateau. However, the flight was successful, and entered Byrd into the history books. After a further summer of exploration, the expedition returned to America on June 18, 1930.

Byrd's later Antarctic expeditions

Byrd undertook three more expeditions to the south pole from 1933–35 and 1939–41, culminating in Operation Highjump from 194647, the largest Antarctic expedition to date. Byrd also commanded Operation Deep Freeze, which established permanent Antarctic bases at McMurdo Sound, the Bay of Whales and the South Pole in 1955, accompanied by Andrew Van Mincey, for whom Mincey Glacier is named.

Awards and decoration

By the time Richard Byrd died on March 12 1957, he had amassed twenty-two citations and special commendations, nine of which were for bravery and two for extraordinary heroism in saving the lives of others. As well he earned the Medal of Honor, the Congressional Life Saving Medal, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Flying Cross, the Navy Cross and three ticker-tape parades. However, Byrd was reportedly very modest about these achievements, preferring to dwell on the substance of his adventures, and the stories of those that had gone awry.

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