Richard Byrd learned to fly in WWI during his tour with the American Navy. He developed a passion for flight, and pioneered many techniques for navigating airplanes over the open ocean including drift indicators and buuble 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 completed the trip; becoming the first ever transatlantic flight.
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 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.
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 there expeditions were resumed and on November 29, 1929 the famous flight to the South Pole was launched. Byrd, along with co-pilot Harold June and photographer 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 undertook three more expeditions to the south pole from 1933-1935 and 1939-1941, culminating in Operation Highjump from 1946-1947, the largest Antarctic expedition to date. Byrd was also commanded Operation Deep Freeze, which established permanent Antarctic bases at McMurdo Sound, the Bay of Wales and the South Pole in 1955.
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 Congressional Medal of Honor, the Congressional Life Saving Medal, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Flying Cross and the Navy Cross. 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.