Sunday, 10 May 2009

Ny Ålesund and the adventure of the Norge
- part II

From Ny Ålesund to the North Pole

The main historic event connected with Ny Ålesund is the flight of the airship "Norge", the first expedition to reach the North Pole.

The "Norge" (Norway) was an Italian-built airship that was the first aircraft to fly over the North Pole and the polar ice cap between Europe and America. The expedition was under the leadership of Roald Amundsen and the airship's designer and pilot Umberto Nobile.

The "Norge" was specially designed by Umberto Nobile for Arctic conditions: reinforced by metal frames at the nose and tail, connected by a flexible tubular metal keel connecting the two, driven by three engine gondolas, these were the main characteristics:

- Lifting gas: hydrogen
- Length: 106 m
- Gas capacity: 19,000 m³
- Performance: 115 km/h
- Payload: 9,500 kg
- Engines: 3 Maybach total power of 780 Hp/582 kW

The flight started off from Rome on 29 March 1926, then went via Oslo and Leningrad to Vadsø in northern Norway, where the airship mast is still standing today. The expedition then crossed the Barents Sea to reach Ny-Ålesund, on the Svalbard islands. On the 7th of May the dirigible moored in King's Bay, Ny Ålesund, to make its final preparations.

The airship left Ny-Ålesund for the final stretch across the polar ice on May 11 at 9:55.
The 16 man expedition included Amundsen, the airship's designer and pilot Umberto Nobile, and polar explorer and expedition sponsor Lincoln Ellsworth.

On May 12 they reached the North Pole, at which point the Norwegian, American and Italian flags were dropped from the airship onto the ice. Amundsen wrote in his notebook that, at 02:20 in the morning, they were at the North Pole, 200 metres high with a temperature of -11 Celsius.

After crossing the pole ice encrustations kept growing on the airship to such an extent that pieces breaking off would be blown by the propellers and make holes in the hull. Nobile reported they had many holes to repair. Battered by the fog and bad weather, the Norge only managed to land on 14 May, in Alaska.

The airship was later sold to the Norwegian Aero Klubb and renamed.

Besides the still standing mooring mast, a monument to the successful crossing over the North Pole stands at Ny Ålesund.