First Plane Lands At South Pole (1956)
Piloted by Spray, NC native  Lieutenant-Commander Conrad (Gus) Shinn)

On Oct. 31, 1956 the first aircraft lands at the South Pole. The following is an article written that day by United Press reporter, Maurice Cutler, who was assigned to cover this historic event and is reprinted with his permission.

First Plane Lands At South Pole
by Maurice Cutler, United Press Staff Correspondent

One Thousand Feet Above the South Pole, Oct. 31 -- (UP) I have just witnessed the historic first landing of an aircraft at the South Pole and the first person setting foot there since Scott's ill-fated 1912 expedition.

A United States Navy R4D (Dakota DC-3) made a successful landing four miles from the presently known location of the South Pole at 2034 hours New Zealand time (0834 GMT Wednesday). With a long vapor trail stretching miles behind it, I saw the small ski-equipped Dakota, named Que Sera Sera, grind to a halt, throwing a wake of snow in its path.

Overhead, a United States Air Force C-124 Globemaster carrying this correspondent circled the area in brilliant sunshine, leaving crisscrossing vapor trails. It carried emergency supplies that would be airdropped should the small plane be unable to take off from the 10,000-foot Polar plateau.

Que Sera Sera--what will be, will be--landed safely in a temperature of around 60 below zero Fahrenheit. The honor of being the first person at the Pole in 44 years went to Operation Deep Freeze commander Rear Admiral George Dufek of Rockford, Ill.

In a message to our plane, Adm. Dufek said he raised the Stars and Stripes for the first time at the South Pole. After 50 minutes on the desolate polar plateau--a flat, white landmass stretching miles to the horizon- -the Dakota commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Conrad (Gus) Shinn of Spray, N.C., took off at 2123 hours local time. It was headed for the support base near the Liv Glacier and the Duncan Mountains.

However, shortly after takeoff from the Pole, the Dakota reported engine trouble. Our Globemaster then reduced speed and accompanied it down the Beardmore Glacier to a safe landing at the Liv Glacier outpost. After topping off its fuel tanks, the aircraft then made its way back across the Ross Ice Shelf to McMurdo Sound.

Adm. Dufek's participation was appropriate given the fact that he has been a member of all U.S. Antarctic expeditions since he navigated Admiral Richard Byrd's flagship USS Bear in 1939-41.

"It was like going into another world," Dufek told correspondents after his return, referring to the severe temperatures. After three minutes, he noted that the face of Navy VX-6 Squadron commander, Capt. Douglas L. Cordiner of Washington, D.C., "was white with frostbite." Members of the small group on the Dakota kept looking at each other to detect frostbite.

The Pole landing party said they were heartened to hear the Globemaster commander Major C.J. Ellen of Raleigh, N.C., tell them, "if you can't get off, we'll crash-land beside you, so you'll have a house."

Dufek said that when he and Cordiner attempted to plant the flag, "we really had to dig with out pickaxes." During this activity one of Cordiner's hands became numb in a very few minutes. Dakota pilot Shinn said the flight was "operationally quite simple," but he was concerned when he started the take-off run at the Pole.

"I pushed the throttle fully forward and nothing happened. I then fired four jet-assist bottles and still nothing. I fire another four and got slight movement, then four more, followed by another three and we more or less staggered into the air," Shinn said.

During the takeoff, Shinn and his co-pilot could not see through their windshield and had to use instruments.

Crewman John P. Strider of Kearneysville, W Va., said his only difficulty was "my coffee wouldn't percolate at 12,000 feet."

Youngest expedition member Civil Air Patrol cadet Robert Barger of Peoria, Ill., was aboard the Globemaster, his third polar flight within six days.

"I made my first flight when I was 17, the other two when I was 18," Barger said. He explained that he celebrated his 18th birthday on Oct. 29, two days before the historic Polar landing.

The severe temperatures at the Pole prompted Adm. Dufek to postpone further landings and the air-drop of construction equipment for the proposed South Pole station.

"I had hoped conditions at the Pole would have been less harsh. Under the circumstances we experienced yesterday, we are going to have to wait. It is humanly impossible to do outside construction work under such conditions. I'm not going to put anyone in the until temperatures improve."

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