Bart (governor, American Polar Soc.) offers a well-crafted introductory take on explorer Richard Byrd's patrician Virginia lineage, impressive educational record, and remarkable early naval career, all as persuasive background to a broader understanding of Byrd's eventual polar expedition, the focus of this book. Byrd's polar ambitions were sparked when he commanded a small naval unit on an ill-conceived expedition to western Greenland. On May 9, 1926, Byrd and pilot Floyd Bennett executed what they claimed was the first aerial transit of the pole, a 15 1/2-hour round trip from their base camp at Spitsbergen. Both won national acclaim, but a cloud has always hung over the expedition. One of Byrd's associates, Bernt Balchen, went so far as to brand the feat a hoax following Byrd's death in 1957. The 1996 discovery of Byrd's flight diary, in which he inferred he was still nearly 150 miles short of the pole when he returned to base because of an oil leak, raised more questions. Credit for the first flight over the North Pole has gone to Roald Amundsen, whose crossing in a dirigible three days after Byrd's departure was fully documented. However, Bart here convincingly affirms Byrd's claim. VERDICT Aviation specialists and buffs will especially appreciate Bart's informative depiction of flight's emerging contributions to 20th-century land exploration. (Illustrations, maps, and endnotes not seen.)—John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Cleveland
Naval aviator Richard Byrd (1888–1957) was a born explorer, but he was no daredevil. American Polar Society governor Bart (Beatrice: The Untold Story of a Legendary Woman of Mystery, 1998) is the authority on Byrd, and his biography is as detailed as Byrd's own preparations for his expeditions. The author closely examines the navigational methods used by Byrd, particularly the equipment he developed that changed navigation out of sight of land forever. He is one of the few authors to actually explain to us landlubbers how the sextant works. Byrd's proficient use of Bumstead's sun compass, his own bubble sextant and wind drift indicator ensured that he was the best aeronautical navigator around at the time. He was part of the 1925 MacMillan Arctic Expedition. Plagued by the unpredictable and usually unforgiving weather, the expedition fell short of its overreaching goals when the adventurers ran out of time. Eventually, Byrd launched his own expedition, backed by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Edsel Ford. He planned to fly over the North Pole from Norway with a plane designed by the Flying Dutchman, Anthony Fokker. Byrd was not the only one striving to be the first to fly over the pole, however. Norwegian Roald Amundsen was depending on an Italian-made dirigible to fly from the same spot over the pole, the polar sea and the landmass that most felt existed beneath the ice. This story of Byrd's accomplishments is for those professionals who appreciate Bart's fastidious attention to navigation methods and preparations necessary for explorative treks. For the rest of us, the book is an easy read if you are able to skim through the considerable details.