Broadcast of first flight to Antarctica

Hear this description by Lieutenant Commander Bill Smith, Royal New Zealand Navy, of the arrival and landing of the first flight to Antarctica on 20 December 1955. Smith was in Antarctic with Operation Deep Freeze to scout for unloading sites for HMNZS Endeavour, which would be heading south the following summer with personnel and supplies for the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1955-58).

Following this another unnamed individual interviews Lieutenant Commander John (Jack) Torbert, the pilot of the first of the aircraft to land in Antarctica, P2V-2N Neptune #124466.


Now as I look up I can get my sight of the first plane. It is low down in the sky and it is fast approaching. First there is just a black speck but now one can see the shape of the wings and there is a faint noise afar which, yes, it is definitely engines of this large plane. Now this is a very historic occasion because never before has an aeroplane flown into the Antarctic. On previous expeditions there have been planes brought down by the ships, offloaded and flown and used in the area. But this is the first time that a plane has flown from some aerodrome outside the Antarctic continent, across the southern waters of the Pacific, across the roaring forties, and the screeching fifties, and any moment now it will touch down on the sea ice of McMurdo Sound.

Now no doubt, as it is quite close to us, you can probably hear the engine noise as it now lines itself up with the runway. And is coming down the runway, circling round - no doubt to get his bearings to make sure of the runway which has been prepared for it. And as I look up into the sky now the plane is going overhead, this two engined Neptune, which left New Zealand early this morning and has flown all the way to the Antarctic non stop. There it goes - over my head now. You can no doubt hear the engines [sound of engines passing over].

It is now passing down the length of the runway in the direction of Observation Hill and soon it will bank and turn. There it goes. Beginning to bank and turn round once more to run down the runway, to get the direction before making its approach for the landing.

The air at the moment is a hive of activity. A helicopter has just released a smoke marker, that is a smoke bomb, which gives an indication as to the direction that the wind is blowing. This smoke marker has fallen on to the sea ice and is now making much smoke and drifting away and the wind is obviously coming from, direct from the South Pole, leaving us and going away in a northerly direction.

As I look up in the sky the Neptune has just crossed the top of Erebus, which is behind, and one can see the skis on which it will land, and it is gradually dropping from the sky, and making its final turn in towards the runway. And lower it comes, banking steeply now, as it is making its approach run into this natural aerodrome which has been laid out on the sea ice at the south Antarctic. Here it is making a low level run across the airstrip. It is not going to land this time. Yes it is! Yes it is! It is now braking violently and is coming down, and here it comes. It is only a matter of 100 yards away from us. Less than that now. You can hear its engine, it is a matter of about 5 ft above the ground. There it goes. And it is cutting its engine now. [engine cuts out] It has touched down. The first plane in history to fly in to the Antarctic has landed today the 20 December 1955. Flown from Wigram [Harewood] aerodrome in Christchurch all this way down to McMurdo Sound.

Another unnamed individual interviews Lieutenant Commander John (Jack) Torbert, the pilot of P2V-2N Neptune #124466.

Unnamed interviewer: Commander, let's see now your name is what, sir?

Pilot: John Torbert. 

Unnamed interviewer: And you're the flight commander are you?

Pilot: I'm the pilot of 466.

Unnamed interviewer: How was the trip?

Pilot: Very dull.

Unnamed interviewer: Very dull? Nothing unusual?

Pilot: Nothing unusual.

Unnamed interviewer: How long did it take?

Pilot: 14 hours and 20 minutes. [Sigh] Can you get that stuff tomorrow, will you? We've had to fly all night long and we've got all kinds of [inaudible].

Aeroplane interior

For the pilots, flying to Antarctica meant 14 hours sitting in a space like this. It is not surprising they sounded a bit grumpy by the time they landed!

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