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12 May 1926: the Norwegian airship Norge flies over the North Pole

What happened this week in the History of Industry? It is to answer this question that Global Industrie invites you to rediscover, every week, a historical event which occurred around this time… in another age. This week, let’s take a look at a major first: the flight over the North Pole by a crew of 16 men, among them the legendary Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.



It all began with a meeting. That of two men who were exceptional in more ways than one.

Aged 53 at the time, Roald Amundsen was literally what is called a living legend. This arctic adventurer was the man who had led the very first expedition to reach the South Pole fifteen years earlier, on the 14th of December 1911. For his part, the brilliant Italian aeronautical engineer Umberto Nobile, who was only 41 at the time, was the designer of the Norge.

This semi-rigid airship measuring 106 meters long and 26 meters wide, which ran on hydrogen, was capable of reaching 115 km/h. Nobile built it in his home country where it was the first airship equipped with cruciform tail-fins. Its pressurized envelope was reinforced by metal frames connected at the nose and tail by a flexible tubular metal keel. This was covered by fabric and used as storage space and as a cabin for the crew. Under the keel were three gondolas accommodating the engines and a separate cabin to control the ship.

The two men had a dream which was as prestigious as it was perilous: to use this exceptional airship to reach the legendary North Pole for the first time! To fulfill this dream, they benefited from the assistance of a third accomplice, the American explorer Lincoln Ellsworth, who, together with the Norwegian Aeroclub, raised the money required to finance the expedition .



It was thus in company with Ellsworth and thirteen other crew members, including navigators, motor mechanics, scientists, radiomen, a meteorologist and a journalist, that they took off from Rome on the 29th of March 1926 to head for Norway. They reach Oslo fifteen days later, on the 14th of April, and then took off again for a journey in several stages during which they passed in particular through Leningrad and flew over the Barents Sea before arriving at the most northerly place in the civilized world, Ny-Ålesund, on the Norwegian island of Spitzberg.

It was from this last port of call that the Norge took off again on the 11th of May and managed to accomplish the feat of taking men to the North Pole for the first time on the 12th of May at 1:25 GMT. To mark the event, the crew dropped Norwegian, American and Italian flags onto the ice. Roald Amundsen thereby became the first man to have reached both poles. 



Upon returning from the expedition, which was cut short due to bad weather, Amundsen announced his retirement. 
He was nevertheless to break this promise two years later, when he heard that Nobile had gone missing with the crew of the airship Italia, which had crashed in the north of Spitzberg on the way back from… the North Pole! Despite the fact that he had fallen out with Nobile in the meantime, Amundsen agreed to participate in a search and rescue mission, and took off on the 18th of June 1928 on board a French Navy seaplane. Nobody was ever to see him or the crew again. No trace of the aircraft, which probably crashed, has ever been found. Nobile, for his part, was saved and died in 1978 at the age of 93