R4D, C47, DC3, Dakota, Goony Bird, Skytrain, you name it! Here is one that made history as it was the first aircraft to land at the South Pole. It's ranking crewmember, Adm. Dufek exclaiming after an hour of glory and discovery, " Lets get the hell out of here "!
31 OCTOBER 1956
Seven Navy men landed in an R4D Skytrain on the ice at the South Pole--the first to stand at the spot since Capt. Robert F. Scott of the Royal Navy reached it in January 1912. The seven men were: Rear Admiral G. J. Dufek, CTF 43 and ComNavSupFor, Antarctica, Captain D. L. Cordiner, C.O., Air Development Squadron 6, Captain Wm. M. Hawkes, co-pilot, Lieutenant Commander C. S. Shinn, pilot, Lieutenant John Swadener, navigator, J. P. Strider, AD2, crew chief, and William Cumbie, AT2, radioman. The party remained at the pole for 49 minutes setting up navigational aids to assist the future delivery of materials and equipment for constructing a scientific observation station at the South Pole...
A Walk in the Sun by Jim Waldron
This story is about a simple walk in the sun but in order to tell it
properly I must discuss other related matters in considerable detail. I wish
I didn't have to elaborate so but I feel telling the entire story is
On October 31, 1956, the first landing ever to be made at the South Pole
was about to happen. Rear Admiral George Dufek USN had chosen Lieutenant
Commander Conrad "Gus" Shinn and his flight crew to attempt the landing,
which was an extraordinary undertaking since the South Pole was almost 10,000
feet above sea level where the aircraft engines of the R4D (C-47) aircraft
would operate considerably below optimum power levels. In addition it was
expected that supercold conditions could be expected on the surface. (This
assumption proved correct for when the landing was made and the thermometer
gauge read minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Before the Admiral and his aircraft would depart from the ice runway at
McMurdo Air Facility, our aircraft with Lieutenant Commander Edward
Frankiewicz as Aircraft Commander, had to be positioned at the foot of Liv
Glacier about 400 miles inland from McMurdo Air Facility and halfway to the
South Pole. There at Liv Glacier was a small facility where fuel was stored
and weather observations could be made. Our aircraft and flight crew were
directed to land and be ready to act as a rescue aircraft if the Admiral and
his aircraft crashed or was incapacitated on the Pole. (It should be
mentioned here that we came close to becoming a rescue aircraft because
Lieutenant Commander Shinn's skis froze to the surface of the South Pole ice
and he had extreme difficulty in getting unstuck and airborne.)
When we departed from NAF McMurdo for the flight to the foot of Liv
Glacier it was a gloriously beautiful day with clear skies, endless
visibility and gentle winds. After landing at the Liv Glacier location we
found the temperature so cold that it was decided to keep the engines turning
for fear that we would not be able to start them when they might be needed.
We remained there on the ice surface for about 15 hours with the engines
turning before we were finally released from our alert position and allowed
to return to NAF McMurdo. Lieutenant Commander Frankiewicz, our Flight Crew
Chief and I took turns sitting in the cockpit in order to monitor the gauges
of the idling engines.
After we had been at the Liv Glacier facility a short while we received a
radio message from NAF McMurdo that the Admiral's aircraft takeoff from
McMurdo had been delayed as they waited for a better forecast of South Pole
weather conditions. Our alert condition was temporarily reduced and we could
then figure on a few hours of relaxation before we would be put on alert
Eddie Frankiewicz approached me about this time and said that he would
like to walk toward the mountains which seemed close enough that one could
throw a rock and hit one. He asked if I would join him, saying our crew chief
could keep the engines turning while we were away.
Since there is very little moisture in the air on the Antarctic ice
fields objects at a distance seem a lot closer than they were. This was the
situation at the foot of the Liv Glacier; the mountains were more than the
short walk as we somehow thought.
As we walked toward the mountains the noise from the aircraft engines
quickly diminished and soon we could only hear the rustle of our clothing and
the sound of our flowing breaths. It is strange but I could also hear the
blood flowing in my ears. The frozen surface of the ice field absorbed sound
completely and if we stopped walking for a few moments there was an utter
silence, except for our breathing and the blood flow to our ears.
I believe we had walked some thirty minutes before Eddie said that he
though he should go back to the aircraft, that there mighty be radio messages
coming in from NAF McMurdo about our pending alert condition. The surface
where we were walking was firm and there was no indication that I might get
into difficulty if I continued onward so Eddie started back and I pressed
onward for a ways.
It is a strange feeling to be as alone as I felt when Eddie disappeared
in the distance. There I was on a strange barren ice cap with nobody in sight
and 400 miles from my home base. The mountains were beautifully outline ahead
of me, but still appeared no closer than they had when I started the walk.
There was no wind and everything was deadly still. It occurred to me that
perhaps no man or woman had ever been at this spot before, however, I later
discovered that Dr. Larry Gould, Ph.D., had made a geographic survey of the
area in the 1930s. He told me that he was as impressed with the magnificence
of the site there as I had been.
As I walked further toward the mountains the surface turned suddenly from
powdery snow to clear ice, probably due to melting snow during previous
summers. As I walked cautiously over the ice each step I made generated a
small musical note. The ice was singing to me. I had never heard such sound
before or since; it was as though I were pressing on the keys to the high
notes of an organ.
Ahead there was a rise in the surface as a mound of solid rock rose above
the ice. It was like a small island in the midst of that ice field. As I
stepped on to the rocky island I noted that it contained a considerable
number of rocks. I presume these rocks had been push down and polished by the
nearby glacier. I filled my pockets with some of these rocks as a souvenir of
my walk in the sun that beautiful day. Only one of these rocks remain in my
possession today as I have given the rest away.
To myself I said, "I name this place Ruth Island" which was my wife's
first name. I didn't think much of it at the time but when I mentioned it in
a letter to home I found that my wife was greatly pleased about having her
name added to a geographic feature in Antarctica. Of course the naming was
between the two of us and was nothing official.
And so I started back to the aircraft and rejoined the operation that was
about to start. We were not called on to make an attempt at a rescue that day
and I am very happy about that for if the polar conditions were severe enough
to stop one aircraft they most likely would have been severe enough to stop
Jim Waldron was an 'original issue' Naval Aviator in the Antarctic and VX6...
"Que Sera Sera, which was the first plane to land at the South Pole, used to be at the Navy Aviation Museum here in Pensacola and it was parked outside with a lot of large planes that were apparently too big, or not good enough to be put inside the museum. The last time I was at the museum, which was less then six months ago I did NOT IMI NOT see it anyplace. I have never seen an Otter there, but it could be stored some place else. Incidently, Conrad "Gus" Shinn who was the pilot of "Que Sera Sera" lives here in Pensacola.