Today in History: U.S. Air Force Lands at the North Pole (1952)

Today in History: U.S. Air Force Lands at the North Pole (1952)

Matthew Weber - May 3, 2017

Throughout history, it has always been man’s greatest achievement to be “first” at something. If one simplifies the relations between the USSR and the United States throughout the Cold War, it could be said that a lot (but obviously not all) of the tension was due to both countries wanting to be first. First to go to space. First to land a man on the moon.

The Cold War was very much a competition between Russia and the United States, though the dangers and fears were very real.

On May 3, 1952, Air Force officers William Pershing Benedict and Joseph O. Fletcher were tasked with gaining another “first” for the Americans. They were asked to land their C-47 on the North Pole.

The North Pole has long been the destination for explorers due to how difficult it was to get there. By using an aircraft, Benedict and Fletcher bypassed the hardest part of getting to the North Pole. Fletcher is supposedly the first man to ever stand directly at the geographic North Pole.

Today in History: U.S. Air Force Lands at the North Pole (1952)
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Fletcher US Air Force. Wikipedia

A question arises when it is claimed that they were the first to land a plane at the North Pole. The answer is unclear, but they were probably not the first men to land a plane there. Sadly for the U.S., the Russians seemingly beat them to the punch, landing a set of three Lisunov Li-2s at the North Pole in 1948.

Most historians agree, however, that Fletcher and a scientist named Albert P. Crary (who accompanied them on the flight), were the first ever to stand at the North Pole.

All throughout the Cold War, the U.S. and the USSR were in direct competition, and it meant a lot to the morale of both countries when a “first” was achieved. Whether it was the space race, an expedition to the North Pole, or their ability to influence a country to their way of thinking, being first was very important to both countries.

The reason why? Well, being first at something is often seen as being the best at that thing, though we know that isn’t true. However, by being first, the U.S. and the Russians could each claim that their way of governing was best when something was achieved by either country.