Bernt Balchen

Bernt Balchen

Tveit, Åseral kommune, Vest-Agder fylke, Norway
Death 17 Oct 1973 (aged 73)
Mount Kisco, Westchester County, New York, USA
Burial Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, USA
Plot Section 2, Grave 4969-2
Memorial ID 49 · View Source
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Explorer, United States Air Force Officer. Born in Norway, he served as a cavalryman in the Finnish Army against the Russians in WWI before becoming a pilot in the Norwegian Naval Air Force in 1921 where he acquired his initial Arctic flying experience. In 1925, he was a pilot on the Amundsen-Ellsworth Relief Expedition to Spitzbergen; the next year he was a member of the Amundsen-Ellsworth-Nobile Arctic Expedition. In 1926 upon emigration to the United States, he served as co-pilot and navigator with Floyd Bennett, as they flew the Ford trimotor monoplane 'Josephine Ford' on a flying tour to more than 50 American cities, thereby promoting commercial aviation as a safe, reliable, and practical means of transport. He also served as advisor to Richard E. Byrd in Arctic flying becaming a pilot for the famed Byrd team and Chief Test Pilot for the Fokker Aircraft Corporation. He was the hero of Byrd's 1927 transatlantic flight in the Fokker trimotor monoplane 'America' when forced to circle fog bound Paris for three hours with fuel tanks nearly empty. He then flew back to the coast and successfully ditched the plane in the Atlantic, thereby saving all aboard. In 1928, he flew to Grennly Island north of Newfoundland to rescue the crew of the German airplane 'Bremen' which had crash-landed after flying the Atlantic. During 1928 to 1930, he was chief pilot on Byrd's Atlantic expedition and on November 29, 1929, he piloted the first airplane to fly across the South Pole. He was made a U.S. citizen by Act of Congress in 1931. Under secret conditions and in record time, he was responsible for building in Greenland in the autumn of 1941 the air base Sondre Stromfjord, then known as `Bluie West Eight', that was used for ferrying warplanes to Europe. For a time he commanded the airfield and was himself engaged in polar rescue operations and with most important work in connection with Norwegian underground. He helped to set up an escape route between United Kingdom and Sweden that enabled some 5,000 Norwegians and other people to flee Nazi tyranny. He was also responsible for supplying the underground in Scandinavia. From November 1944 to August 1945, he commanded air operations that chased the Germans from Norway and Finland. He also established a covert air transportation system between England and Scandinavian countries and Russia. His diplomacy and persuasion secured the necessary international agreements and he became its able and dedicated leader. Not one aircraft used to fly these missions was lost to enemy action and the number of evacuees exceeded 4300 persons. As one of the founders of the Scandinavian Airlines System, he helped pioneer commercial airline flight over the North Pole, which increased business development in Alaska and shortened the flying time necessary for international flights between the United States and points in Europe and Asia. From November 1948 to January 1951, he commanded the 10th Rescue Squadron of the United States Air Force, which was headquartered in Alaska but ranged across the entire northern tier of North America rescuing downed airmen, and led the squadron in the development of the techniques that are now universally used in cold weather search and rescue operations. While with the 10th Rescue Squadron, he flew a C-54 from Fairbanks over the North Pole to Oslo, thereby becoming the first to pilot a plane over both poles. He was the individual primarily responsible for the pioneering and development of the strategic air base at Thule, Greenland, which was built secretly in 1951 under severe weather conditions and which, by extending the range of the Strategic Air Command, increased the capabilities that made the Strategic Air Command a significant deterrent to Soviet aggression during the Cold War. He was the founder of the International Aviation Snow Symposium of which he also served as honorary chairman. In 1976, the Balchen Award was created to annually recognize excellence in the performance of airport snow and ice removal. The award is sought avidly by the managers of airports of all categories in the United States and Canada, and has successfully encouraged progressive improvement in cold weather airport safety and air travel. He was the recipient of the Byrd Antarctic Expedition Congressional Medal, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Legion of Merit, the Soldier's Medal, the Air Medal, and other governments and societies have awarded him various other medals and awards in recognition of his patriotism and remarkable achievement in aviation. In retirement, he became an accomplished watercolorist, and had three one-man shows at the Grand Central Art Galleries in New York City. On October 23, 1999, the centennial of his birth, King Harald V of Norway unveiled in Kristiansand a statue of him.

Bio by: Ugaalltheway

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 49
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Bernt Balchen (23 Oct 1899–17 Oct 1973), Find a Grave Memorial no. 49, citing Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .