On July 13, 1939, RADM Richard Byrd was appointed as commanding officer of the 1939-1941 Antarctic exploration. This was Byrd’s third Antarctic expedition, and the first one that had the official backing of the U.S. Government. In honor of his work, and the work done by many others who braved the cold and ice, here is a brief history of American Antarctic exploration, originally published in the November 1961 issue of Proceedings.
Charting of an Unknown Land: The Antarctic Continent
By SCOT MAcDONALD
There is a suspicion among some cartographers that Christopher Columbus carried with him on his first trip to the New World a map of the Antarctic coastline.
Later, so the story goes, a Turkish naval officer and geographer, Piri Reis, waylaid a former pilot of the famous explorer and swiped from him one of Columbus’ charts-the one purported to be of the Antarctic. Piri Reis then set about compiling a map of the world, using this chart and others, many first drawn some 300 years before Christ was born.
The existing fragment of the map (now in the Library of Congress) has stumped experts since its discovery. But famed cartographer Arlington H. Mallery believes he has solved the mystery. The fragment, he claims, represents an ice-free Antarctic continent as it appeared 5,000 years ago.
Though the map, or chart, is interesting, it hardly represents the continent as it appears today. Antarctica measures some 5 1/2 million square miles in area, most of this solid ice. Mountain ranges, peaks, and nunataks (outcroppings) pierce the ice sheet, sometimes in an expected orderly fashion, but more often in places completely strange and unsuspected.
Most of the Antarctic has not been charted at all, let alone with the precision and accuracy demanded by cartographers. A large percentage of the coastline and immediate interior has been charted in recent times, but only a fraction of the vast snow prairies, primeval peaks, and storm-lashed ranges that comprise the core of the continent.
The Arctic areas, on the other hand, appear well defined on current maps. This is due to the commercial drive to establish a Northwest Passage between Europe and Cathay, the ten-year search for Sir John Franklin who perished while trying to find it in mid-19th century, the establishment of the Distant Early Warning Line radar listening posts in more recent times, and the natural interest of the Canadians who own most of the North American Arctic.
The far north has Eskimo inhabitants; north of the Arctic Circle, the population is over a million. Wild life is present upon which they can feed, permitting survival, however stark and primitive and uncomfortable.
But the southern polar regions have none of these enticements and capabilities. There is no wildlife, except during the brief summer months-and such as is found is fairly unpalatable. There is no timberland or sustaining vegetation. It is possible to live off seals, penguins, and petrels along the coastline in the Antarctic summer; a few explorers were forced to try, but their fight for survival was grim-and not always successful. There are no people indigenous to the continent.
Charting of the continent had its real beginning shortly after 1775 when Captain Cook discovered the fur seals of South Georgia. He called them to the attention of commerce and even listed the port of Canton, China, as a ready market place for the pelts. Both English and American vessels descended on the area and, for 35 years, sealing in and near Antarctic waters was a profitable venture.
Much of the Antarctic coastline could have been charted at this time, but most sealers were reluctant to part with information that might and probably would cause them financial disaster. The slaughter of seals was on until the market broke in 1811. Sealing and exploration continued sporadically through the 19th century, sometimes flaring up with an intensity that eventually spurred an international agreement to protect the remaining herds and rookeries.
Whalers then descended on the area, but they were as reluctant to part with geographic information as were their predecessors, the sealers. Another international agreement was reached, much later, to protect the industrywhich was already dying, the result of depletion of the massive mammal herds and the narrowing of whalebone and whale oil markets.
At the turn of the century, explorers began to wonder about the bottom of the world. It attracted men who have become great names in the history of Antarctic exploration: Borchgrevink, Drygalski, Nordenskjold, Scott, Charcot, Amundsen, Filchner, Mawson. Before them, only a few ventured into the icechoked waters to chart scientifically the continent. Most notable were D’Urville, Wilkes, and Ross. Each of these men and their parties contributed to the maps and charts of Antarctica. D’Urville, for instance, intended to sail over the South Pole and instead discovered Adelie Land, naming it after his wife (a species of penguins also bears her name). Wilkes, in his 1838-42 expedition, established the existence of a land mass of continental proportions at the bottom of the world. Ross found the giant ice shelf which bears his name. About the size of Spain, it is the largest floating mass of ice in the world. Most of their discoveries were made from either shipside or on limited oversnow traverses.
The race to be first to reach the geographic south pole fascinated both Amundsen and Scott, the former succeeding, the latter perishing. The success and failure captured the public’s eye and heart and world-wide interest in Antarctica was renewed.
The age of the airplane in exploration of the continent was presaged with a flight in 1928 by Sir Hubert Wilkins. But it remained for Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd to bring modern machines, including planes, to the Antarctic for pre-planned scientific purposes: specifically, “aerial surveying.” The importance he placed on photomapping may be reflected in his selection of Ashley C. McKinley as third in command of his 1928-30 Antarctic expedition. McKinley was aerial surveyor in the party.
Byrd was the first to fly over the geographic south pole (Nov. 29, 1929) and for this feat he is more generally recognized. But the greater import to today’s scientists wrestling with the Pandora’s box of Antarctic secrets, is his discovery of Marie Byrd Land, the Edsel Ford Range, and the Rockefeller Mountains. “From McKinley’s laboratory came, perhaps, the most important geographical information of the expedition,” Byrd wrote in “Little America,” his chronicle of this foray into the Antarctic. “When his photographs were finally developed, I saw how faultlessly the aerial camera had recorded all details within its range of vision ….
“Two types of aerial surveying were done. The first of these is the vertical, which is taken with the lens of the camera pointed down through the floor of the airplane. The oblique is obtained by pointing the camera at a known angle through an aperture in the side of the plane.”
Though this system of photomapping may be considered primitive by modern standards, it was more than acceptable to cartographers.
On Byrd’s return flight from the pole in 1929 he noted, “The flight proved what I already knew to be true. Carmen Land does not exist. McKinley photographed the Barrier where Amundsen believed it lay, and we then turned westward, looking for the base [Little America]‘”
Nor did Byrd restrict the value of aerial photomapping to cartographers. “The survey photographs which McKinley made,” he wrote, “will be interesting and important to glaciologists 50 and one hundred years from now. For they are a permanent record of ice conditions in 1929, and the extent of the changes which will undoubtedly occur during the intervening years can be clearly drawn. Here, again, is an example of the new precision in modern exploration.”
Joseph Pelter was the aerial cameraman during Byrd’s second Antarctic expedition (1933-35). With the Admiral navigating, Pelter photographed a survey eastward of Mount Grace McKinley (named after the photographer’s wife), to the 130th meridian west. This recorded the eastward extension of the Edsel Ford Mountains.
The second major flight was both a success and failure. The Horlick Mountains were discovered, but the wings of the plane got in the way during the first run and by the time the plane turned for a second run, a bank of mist cloaked the mountains.
Byrd pioneered in the scientific use of photomapping. Not content to simply shoot pictures from an aircraft, he insisted on starting a photo run from a known and accurately charted position. If two such positions were checked, the bearing lines were considered “anchored.” With the appearance of three or more check points, the feature could then be unquestionably plotted in true orientation and position.
Lincoln Ellsworth, about this time, realized a great ambition-a flight across the continent. On 23 November 1935, he took off from Dundee Island near the tip of the Palmer Peninsula and headed for Byrd’s camp. He set down frequently to wait out storms or to check his position. The flight terminated 5 December just 16 miles short of his goal. Three years later, he returned to the Antarctic and surveyed an area now known as American Highland.
The Germans, too, were interested in the bottom of the world in 1938. They sent down a catapult ship, Schwabenland, with two seaplanes aboard. The purpose was political: to photomap a portion of the continent and claim it for Germany. During the expedition, the planes mapped Princess Martha Coast and Princess Astrid Coast.
Many nations have placed claims on certain areas of the Antarctic continent, including Argentina, New Zealand, Great Britain, Germany, France, Russia, Norway, and Chile. But the United States has never submitted its own claim, nor has it officially recognized those of other nations.
As a result of international interest in the continent and the phenomenal success and popularity of Rear Admiral Byrd’s expeditions, the United States established the U. S. Antarctic Service, placed Admiral Byrd in charge of it, and set about establishing two bases, one at Little America III, near his second one across the continent on Stonington Island in Marguerite Bay. The Little America station was to be called West Base and the Stonington Island, East Base. Both were to be permanent, with an annual change of personnel each Antarctic summer. This expedition stretched from 1939 to 1941.
Byrd again used aircraft, again the aerial camera and, as in the past, he met with success. Areas of the Walgreen Coast, Thurston Peninsula and Seraph Bay were studied in a series of three flights. The coast between Hearst Island and Cape Northrop was photomapped. Another series of three flights was made over Alexander I Island and, in late December 1940, the entire length of George VI Sound was flown over.
Planes also operated out of the West Base and made several important discoveries. Among them was Shackleton Glacier and the discovery of what the expedition called an “ice-drowned” island.
But by March 1941, Hitler had succeeded in tossing the world into a chaotic war. Most of the countries not actually in arms were feeling the international tension. Admiral Byrd’s expedition was recalled and what promised to be the most scientifically productive of all Antarctic expeditions, proved a somewhat aborted mission. While the rest of the world stormed, the Antarctic slept for a short VanWinkle-ish five years. The continent still successfully guarded its secrets; not even its actual shape and contours known: they were only guessed at, based on limited authoritative information, a few old log books from oldtime sealing and whaling ships, and expeditions which had investigated small areas.
Then in 1946, a swarm of 4,700 Americans descended on the continent. Thirteen ships charged into the carona of ice that fringes its bordering waters. Aircraft carriers and submarines combined with tenders and icebreakers to make up a task force given the code name Operation HIGHJuMP. Rear Admiral Byrd again was Officer-in-Charge of the expedition, with Rear Admiral Richard H. Cruzen in command of the Navy Task Force.
This operation ranks tops in at least two departments: it remains the largest single expedition in the history of Antarctic exploration, and it was also the most hastily organized. A scant seven weeks after official word was given to organize, the main body was en route to the Antarctic Circle.
Primary mission of this operation was the systematic exploration of the continent. Admirals Byrd and Cruzen intended to accomplish this by multi-engine airplanes equipped with tri-metrogon cameras. Six PBM Mariners and six R4D Skytrains were divided between an Eastern Group and a Western.
These cameras consisted of three units, one exposing the terrain from a straight down vertical, and the other two aimed at port and starboard horizons at an oblique angle. The photographs were shot in a series of overlapping black and white stills. In subsequent operations, these cameras held a roll of film 9 1/2 inches wide by 370 feet long.
From Christmastime 1946 until 4 March, 1947, when both groups secured, the Western Group made 25 photographic flights and the Eastern made 22. Thousands of square miles, most of them never before seen by man, were photographed.
But only a fraction of this film was usable.
Back in the United States, cartographers viewed and reluctantly shelved the processed film. Though the exposures were good, too frequently the film was improperly annotated and the chart makers had no idea of what part of the continent they were viewing.
There was some hope ofsalvage, however, so the Navy was given the assignment ofsending a couple of icebreakers back to Antarctic waters the following year. Aboard each was a detachment of helicopters. Their assignment: Skirt the continent and establish as many ground control points as possible. With these check points accurately charted, cartographers hoped to tie in many of the flight lines photographed the year before. This particular operation was appropriately named. In reference to the whirlybirds, or helicopters, the expedition was code-named Operation WINDMILL.
About this time, Finn Ronne, who had gone south with Admiral Byrd a couple of times, headed his own expedition, sponsored by the American Geographical Society, the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force, and a few private donors. Besides conducting various scientific studies, the Ronne expedition used three planes to obtain, in nine major flights, 14,000 tri-metrogon photos of the continent.
The icebreakers USS Edisto and USS Burton Island, in the meantime, forced their way into the ice of Davis Sea during the WINDMILL operation, landed on Haswell Islet, then cruised eastward, stopping off at the Knox Coast, McMurdo Sound, the Bay of Whales, and Peter I Island. Check points established, they headed toward Marguerite Bay and the Finn Ronne camp on Stonington Island. They found the ship, The City of Beaumont, held fast in five miles of thick ice. The two breakers chopped at the ice delicately to avoid undue pressure against Ronne’s beset ship. Eventually, they freed her from the pack, towed her to open water, and all three ships headed home.
The Operation HIGHJUMP aerial photos continued to concern topographists and, during a 1948-53 French Antarctic Expedition, oversnow traverses were carried along the Adelie Coast, obtaining astronomical control points along the eastern half of the coast, with the primary intent of identifying HIGHJUMP photos, later used in compiling maps and charts of the coast.
Between 1949-1952, a Norwegian-BritishSwedish Antarctic expedition in two seasons managed to triangulate and aerial photograph about 23,000 square miles of area. This extended the inland survey to some 38,000 miles. The members operated from Camp Maudheim near Cape Norvegia.
The United States stayed out of the Antarctic after Operation WINDMILL ended in 1948 until the decision was made to participate in the International Geophysical Year. This would start the first of July 1957 and end on the last day of December 1958. The largest single area of operation the United States drew during the pre-IGY conferences was the Antarctic. The United States was committed to build and man seven bases on the continent, including one at the geographic south pole.
Pre-planning actually began in 1951. Twelve nations agreed to participate in the gathering of scientific data in the south polar regions, and each nation was committed to establish a certain number of stations widely scattered over the continent, or on subAntarctic islands.
Argentina would establish nine, Australia three, Belgium one, Chile four, France three, Japan one, New Zealand three, Norway one, the Soviet Union six, the Union of South Africa three, and the United Kingdom thirteen.
The lion’s share of the work load fell to the United States, and it fell to aircraft of the Navy’s XV-6 Air Development Squadron, a unit of Operation DEEPFREEzE, to conduct most of the photomapping in the Antarctic. Topography was only one of the scientific studies to be conducted during the IGY, but its importance could not be denied. Despite the various expeditions, only a small fraction of the continent was accurately charted.
As a result of previous expeditions, the general shape of the continent was sketched and enough flights over various parts of it indicated that its size is approximately 5 1/2 million square miles, nearly twice the size of the United States, and that most of this is ice sheet. Glaciologists estimate that, under certain conditions, should this ice sheet melt, it would raise the sea levels throughout the world at least 200 feet.
In 1954, the icebreaker USS Atka was sent on a reconnaissance mission to the area of the Bay of Whales. Her job was to search out acceptable offloading sites on the barrier ice near the four Little America stations and in the area of McMurdo Sound. These were to be the two major stations of the upcoming IGY activity. The Little America Station was to be the scientific center for U. S. experts in the Antarctic, and McMurdo camp was to be the Navy’s supply depot, supporting all outlying stations.
When Atka returned, she reported that half of Little America IV Station, built during Operation HIGHJuMP, had broken off and disappeared. The four stations were built on the extremities of Ross Ice Shelf, a continuallymoving mass of ice fed by inland glaciers and pushing inexorably toward the South Pacific Ocean. On the half that had worked itself free from the shelf and floated north were nine aircraft left in storage after HIGHJuMP. The use of these airplanes for DEEPFREEZE photo-mapping was now considered impossible.
During its brief survey, Atka did manage to delineate a number of bays and ice tongues along the Princess Martha Coast on the opposite side of the continent. But her survey of the Little America area cost her the life of a young helicopter pilot and his aircraft.
On 17 January, 1955, the VX-6 squadron was commissioned at the Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, Maryland. Over the next four years, while providing air support for the scientists, it photomapped thousands of square miles of the continent.
During its first season on the ice, the squadron utilized two R5D Skymasters and two skiequipped P2V Neptunes. It also planned to fly R4D Skytrains and even reconfigured the planes, installing special camera mounts which abutted from the aircraft. The added weight and the extra wind drag frustrated the two planes when they encountered headwinds between New Zealand and McMurdo Sound. They were forced back, and participated no more in that season’s operation. The camera mounts were taken off and the planes reached the ice the following year.
The two Neptunes were early doomed. At the end of its service on the ice, one of the Neptunes returned to the United States and shortly after, was ordered back to Antarctica on a mercy mission-an attempt to find a downed UC-1 Otter, its crew and passengers. The Neptune took the South American route and crashed into a Venezuelan jungle. The plane was a write-off, but fortunately none of the crew was seriously injured.
The second Neptune’s fate was more tragic. At the start of DEEPFREEzE II (1956-57), it launched from Christchurch, New Zealand, in mid-October. A Skymaster preceded it to the ice the day before. Aboard was Rear Admiral George J. Dufek, U. S. Navy, who commanded the operation. With fine weather at McMurdo, the admiral ordered the rest of the planes to the ice. By next morning, weather set in in the McMurdo area, but by that time, the inbound planes had already passed the point of no return.
The Neptune was first to arrive. It came in on a ground approach landing, but visibility cleared; the pilot switched to a visual approach. The decision was disastrous. The plane crashed, killing four aboard.
Though 21,000 tri-metrogon photos were filed at the end of DEEPFREEzE I, the operation was less successful than it could have been as far as photomapping was concerned.
Because of the speed with which the squadron was ordered established, was organized and trained in the few months before actual deployment, photographers and crewmen failed to attain a mutually beneficial liaison in the early days of DEEPFREEzE. In an endof-operation report, the VX-6 photographic department submitted this observation:
“It was apparent that most of the pilots or navigators were unaware or unconcerned about the problems or the necessary information required by the photographer to conclude a successful mapping mission.
“Specifically, the more important information that proved to be difficult to obtain was ground speed, position of aircraft at the beginning and termination of each run, failure to inform the photographer of banks or turns, and wrong procedures for the crossing of previous runs. In many cases, cameras were left running while the aircraft had taken up or deviated from a course heading that had previously been recorded on the photographer’s data sheet.”
The young squadron, in its infancy, was experiencing growing pains and steps were taken during the next pre-deployment period to correct these errors.
Despite the problems encountered, the squadron made nine famous long-distance flights that operation, which exposed areas, large areas, of the continent no man living or dead had ever seen.
The first of these was originally planned to be an aerial survey of part of Victoria Land, but the plane encountered a whiteout. This polar phenomenon proved a scourge to Antarctic fliers and cost the life of more than one VX-6 man. When it occurs, shadows and horizons disappear, normal depth perception is lost, and all light is even. Whiteouts strike at odd intervals and happen when there is a fairly low, but even, cloud cover over a completely snow or ice-covered surface. Rays of the sun bounce back and forth between clouds and the highly reflective surface. Aviators have likened it to “flying in a bowl of milk.”
Skirting the edge of the whiteout, the plane took a southerly path. When it soon became apparent that the area to be photographed could not be done that day, the aircraft continued on a flight line to the geographic south pole and photographed terrain there. The pole was also one of the areas slated to be photographed later in the season.
The second long-range flight was made in early January 1956. It crossed Marie Byrd Land and the Ellsworth Highlands on a 2,200mile mission. The third major flight was made about the same time and took a westerly path to Conger Glacier on the Knox Coast, along the coast to Vincennes Bay, and back to McMurdo. Flight four was another dash to the Ellsworth Highlands, but an engine of the Neptune failed when the plane was about 1,000 miles out and it was forced to jettison all unnecessary cargo and equipment aboard and return to McMurdo.
Flight five photomapped the south magnetic pole. This constantly moving pole was then located in Wilkes Land, a few miles south of the later established French Charcot Station.
Flight six was flown on 8 January 1956. It set out for the Pole of Inaccessibility, the geographic center of the continent, with Rear Admiral Byrd aboard. Weather forced them to change course and they swerved over to the geographic south pole, originally seen from the air by Admiral Byrd 27 years earlier.
Next flight, Flight Seven, was successful in reaching the Pole of Inaccessibility. The eighth flight was a round-trip dash from McMurdo Sound to Edith Ronne Land, and the last flight was a round-robbin from McMurdo to the South Pole to the Weddell Sea and return.
As a result of the aerial surveys of the geographic south pole in DEEPFREEZE I, Rear Admiral Dufek determined it was both possible and feasible to land a plane there and to fly in men and materials for the construction of a scientific station there. But he couldn’t be absolutely sure until a plane had actually landed on the snow and ice surface. He was determined that an attempt would be made.
Accordingly, in the second DEEPFREEZE operation (1956-57), a small camp was estalished on Beardmore Glacier, manned by a handful of men. Their job was to prepare a runway capable of supporting a ski-equipped R4D Skytrain. Barrels of aviation gasoline were also flown to the camp to refuel the plane on its return leg from the pole.
When weather permitted, on 31 October, the Skytrain reached the pole and landed. Rear Admiral Dufek was aboard. In the 49 minutes they remained on deck, the crew, assisted by Admiral Dufek, erected radar reflectors and flag markers for use in future landings. These were the first Americans ever to stand at the geographic south pole, and the very first plane to actually land on its surface was operated by the VX-6 squadron.
Twenty days later, construction of the station began. Byrd Station, in the middle of Marie Byrd Land, was being built. Shortly after, Hallett Station on the northeastern coast of Victoria Land was built and manned by both Americans and New Zealanders. Wilkes Station on the Knox Coast soon followed. Last of the seven cities of wisdom was Ellsworth Station on the Filchner Ice Shelf.
During the wintering-over period, XV-6 maintained three detachments, one at McMurdo, one at Little America V, and one at Ellsworth. The Otters and helicopters flying out of Ellsworth Station photomapped much of that area. The United States was now ready for the International Geophysical Year. It began during the wintering-over period of DEEPFREEZE II and the start of DEEPFREEZE III, 1 July, 1957.
During this very active support season, which began with the break of isolation by the arrival of a Skymaster and a Neptune on the first of October, the squadron’s planes photomapped 633,374 square miles of Antarctic terrain. VX-6 photographers consider DEEPFREEZE III the first “of the good years.” DEEPFREEZE IV marked the end of the IGY and, theoretically, the planned disestablishment of the VX-6 squadron. These were the exploratory years, when man, in aircraft, had a glimpse of one of the most forbidding areas of the world.
The IGY proved successful and most of the original 12 nations wanted to continue with the program. Much information was gathered during the four years, but only a fraction of what was available. Congress concurred and authorized the establishment of the U. S. Antarctic Research Program (USARP), a department of the National Science Foundation. The Navy continued to lend its support to the scientists; VX-6 was given a “reprieve.” Rear Admiral Dufek retired from active participation in DEEPFREEZE and was relieved by Rear Admiral David M. Tyree. The code name of the operation dropped the Roman numeral designation and adopted a number to agree with the current fiscal year. After DEEPFREEZE IV came DEEPFREEZE 60-and a new approach (and dedication) to aerial photomapping.
In March 1959, representatives of the 12 nations that later signed the Antarctic Peace Treaty met in Canberra, Australia, for the express purpose of exchanging ideas and coordinating mapping activities. It is the intent of these 12 nations to chart and map the entire continent accurately. Most of the work is now being done by the United States, Great Britain, and the U.S.S.R.
A working committee in the United States, made up of representatives from the U. S. Geological Survey, the Navy Hydrographic Office, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Aeronautical Chart and Information Service, has banded together under the title Advisory Committee on Antarctic Mapping (TACAM). It has a primary mission ofadvising on the best methods of obtaining accurate maps and estimating the costs involved in these operations.
As a result of Rear Admiral Tyree’s first expedition (DEEPFREEZE 60), five maps of specific areas of the continent are being published, based on aerial photographs taken during that summer support season. Published at a scale of 1 : 250,000, the maps cover the McMurdo Sound area, Thurston Island, the Horlick and Sentinel mountains, and the Executive Committee Range.
All this is part of a pattern that will eventually result in the entire continent being accurately charted. The British are doing extensive work on and around the Palmer Peninsula, while the Soviets and the Australians are pushing hard in the area claimed by the Australians. This area includes most of Wilkes Land, and all of the American Highland and Enderby Land.
The interest in charting the Antarctic is not just an expression of the exploration drive or to satisfy man’s curiosity. Accurate mapping will help many allied sciences and bolster or shatter several theories advanced in the past concerning the history of the planet Earth.
The theory of Gondwanaland, for instance, is steadily gaining support as a result of photomapping the Antarctic and studying its known topographical features. Gondwanaland is a theoretical super-continent composed millions of years ago of what is now known as Antarctica, South America, India, and Australia. If this theory is supported by evidence found in the Antarctic, a separate theory of floating land masses achieves some validity. Scientists are intrigued.
A routine aerial reconnaissance flight during the summer season of DEEPFREEZE 60 gave cartographers pause when a VX-6 Skytrain reported the disappearance of two tall mountains in Marie Byrd Land and the presence of a large mountain and a range of smaller mountains in the area of the Executive Committee Range.
Both the non-existent mountains were charted during Operation HIGHJUMP. The first to be disproved, Mount Vinson, was also the highest recorded land feature on the continent, 20,013 feet. Thirty miles further in the flight, the plane failed to sight 15,000-foot Mount Nimitz when its charted position was reached. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names accordingly vacated the names, assigning Vinson and Nimitz to a glacier and a mountain massif, respectively, in the Sentinel Range.
For Operation DEEPFREEZE 61 summer support season, the VX-6 squadron was given five major areas to be mapped, including the Britannia Range, Queen Alexandra Range, Queen Maud Mountains, a section of Victoria Land, and Ross Island, in addition to 20 flight lines over penguin rookeries for population count. These aerial photos will be used in the preparation of a new map of the Antarctic being drawn by the American Geographic Society under a grant from the National Science Foundation, and separate, more limited maps for the U. S. Department of the Interior, Geological Survey.
To eliminate the errors that limited the usefulness of the aerial photos taken during Operation HIGHJuMP, Geological Survey furnished the services of a photogrammetric specialist, Mr. William R. MacDonald, to act as liaison between that department and the VX-6 squadron photographers, pilots, and navigators.
Stationed at Christchurch, New Zealand, where the film was annotated, Mr. MacDonald inspected it for coverage, geometry, and general quality. He also advised when it was necessary to rephotograph a given area. Through a representative of the U. S. Antarctic Research Program at McMurdo, Mr. George Toney, he made available prints of the aerial photographs to USGS engineers on traverse parties, as soon as the prints were available.
In instructing the VX-6 photographers, USGS advised them to photomap only when lighting and weather conditions were such that the best possible negatives could be produced. A maximum solar altitude is preferred, they pointed out, to avoid deep shadows. They were advised not to photograph an area when cloud cover exceeded threetenths. To be on the safe side, Neptune pilots seldom launched if the cloud cover was over one-tenth, according to Lieutenant James W. Cornwell, the squadron’s photo officer and himself a P2V plane commander.
During one flight last season, photographer Eugene Barfield startled Lieutenant David J. Finn then piloting a Neptune over the ice sheet of Victoria Land at an altitude of 25,000 feet. “Hey,” said Barfield over the plane’s intercom system, “we can’t photomap today. We ain’t going by the book, by the rules and regulations.” Lieutenant Finn, expecting the worst and dreading an aborted flight, listened attentively as Barfield read the regulation to him. “Photography will be undertaken at that time of year when foliage is at a minimum, streams are within their normal banks, and the ground is free of ice and snow.” The pilot grinned with relief. “Well, that’s nice to know,” he said.
The plane should fly at an altitude of at least 20,000 feet, the photographers were told. A compilation using pictures taken at that altitude would cost $100,000. If the same terrain was photomapped at 10,000 feet, an increase in man hours would drive the cost to $336,000.
VX-6 planes fly over the Antarctic when they can. They are restricted by the continent’s capricious weather, communications disturbances caused by solar disturbances, available fuel, and readiness of aircraft. The squadron normally uses ski-equipped P2V-7 Neptunes almost exclusively, though it has used an R7V Super Constellation and plans on flying a photo-configured ski C-130BL Hercules when it becomes available.
The Neptunes serve a dual purpose in the Antarctic, one sometimes cancelling out the other. Its two missions are photomapping and search and rescue. At least one Neptune is retained at McMurdo for SAR at all times during the summer support season. This frequently limits its photomapping potential.
The problems are realized by those concerned with the photomapping program on the ice. In a letter to Captain William H. Munson, U. S. Navy, commanding the VX-6 squadron, Mr. MacDonald noted: “The procurement of aerial photography in Antarctica presents probably the greatest challenge ever encountered in peacetime mapping operations. Operational difficulties, weather, and other factors present difficulties in the procurement of aerial photography seldom encountered in any other part of the world.” He ended his letter congratulating the squadron for doing”an outstanding job” in the face of less than ideal working conditions.
The flight lines flown over the continent average 150 miles long and, depending on the altitude of the terrain, are spaced from eight to 13 miles apart. Normally, the Neptunes fly at 20,000 feet, but dropped to 1,000 when taking the penguin count.
The high altitude flying presents the photographer with several hardships, according to Lieutenant Mack Wright, supervising photo operations on the ice last season and who will become XV-6 photo officer in DEEPFREEZE 62. While the photographer is on oxygen, he can neither eat, drink coffee, nor smoke.
The greatest amount of aerial photography done during DEEPFREEZE 61 was accomplished by Harry N. Williams, photographer’s mate second, from LaGrange, Georgia. He encountered more of the hazards and misadventures than his colleagues in the squadron.
On one occasion, the heating unit at his photo station failed to function. Assuming the rest of the plane was as cold, he continued to work without comment. The temperature plummeted to 45 degrees below zero on the Fahrenheit scale and the flight lasted between four and five hours. By the time he returned to McMurdo camp, he was so crippled from the cold that he required two shots of medicinal brandy before he could talk.
Heaters have failed on other occasions during photomapping flights. In their eagerness to get the job accomplished, the crew suffered temperatures ranging from 30 to 45 degrees below. During one such mission, chief photographer’s mate Frank Kazukaitis answered “Negative” each time the pilot called back to inquire if the windows were frosted, thus aborting the flight. As the mission continued, the pilot called back a final time, with an edge of exasperation in his voice. Again the answer, “Negative!” “Then dammit, blow on them,” the pilot quipped, “I’m cold!”
Usually the Neptunes fly with a minimum crew of pilot, co-pilot, navigator, engineer, and photographer. Four cameras are taken on each flight, one for vertical, two for obliques, and one for back-up in event one of the cameras develop a malfunction. Nine magazines of film are carried so that three changes can be made in flight.
Before take-off, the photographer has 18 items on a check-off list to consult, verify or act upon. In flight, before reaching the area to be photomapped, there are six more items on the list that demand his attention. In the moments immediately preceding “cameras on,” there are four and during the actual run, seven. After the run over each flight line is completed, there are eight items, and after the flight is over, four more. If in flight, as usually happens, a film magazine needs changing, he has another list upon which are 11 items which require checking or doing.
Since he cannot manipulate dials, toggle switches, or knobs while wearing heavy gloves, the photographer may wear only contact gloves, which do little more than protect the bare flesh of his fingers from freezing to the ice-cold metal. In flight, he also must fill out a photographer’s data sheet which would gain the respect of an income tax consultant. “One man alone,” said Lieutenant Wright, “is nothing but eyeballs and elbows.”
As the film is exposed over the flight lines, the camera records a data strip along the side of each negative, indicating the precise time of the flight in Greenwich time, the calibrated focal length of the camera (154.08 mm., or roughly six inches), the number of the exposure, the type camera and the serial number of the lens (in event the lens proves defective), and the particular mission or sortie being flown.
The VX-6 squadron uses a CA-14 Fairchild Cartographic Camera. There are 400 exposures in each film magazine, weighing 14.7 pounds and measuring 370 feet in length when unwound. The camera is installed in built-in mounts in the Neptune. When the film is exposed at 20,000 feet above sea level, each roll of film photographs 909.9 miles of sea level terrain in a straight line. There is a 60 per cent forward overlap of the prints in the final assembly, making certain that all the area to be covered was coVered.
In the past season, VX-6 Neptunes flew a total of 9,282 flight line miles. This does not include the approach to and return from the area being photographed. There are four times as many air miles flown to and from as there are flight line miles of terrain actually photographed.
Photomapping was only one of many commitments undertaken by the VX-6 photographers. They also had still and motion picture assignments as well as laboratory processing work. Their minimum workday was 12 hours, with a more realistic average of 16. They frequently have worked around the clock in order to get film processed and packaged to be flown out on short notice.
Though the work is hard, the hours long and cold, the Navy photographers in the Antarctic receive unexpected honors and one or two advantages over their fellow Navymen. Because of the consistent excellence of their photos they are permitted credit lines; this permission is not granted other photographers in the Navy. Through their photomapping missions, they get to see more of the continent than the average Navyman who winters-over at Pole Station sees, or at any of the other U.S.-manned Antarctic stations.
A few have been honored by the U. S. Board on Geographic Names. There is a Mount Reimer in the Sentinels, named after chief photographer John D. Reimer, who has been photomapping the continent since DEEPFREEZE II (1956-57). There is also a Mount Kazukaitis. During a DEEPFREEZE I non-stop flight from McMurdo Sound to the Weddell Sea, chief photographer Jack O. Hill was aboard, photomapping. There is now a Hill Nunatak in the Pensacola Range discovered during that flight. The Board has also honored a number of VX-6 pilots and crewmen who discovered topographical features. In recognition for their work on making a map on the Sentinel Range, based on VX-6 aerials, Mr. MacDonald and three others of the USGS crew were honored.
The Board has memorialized six of the squadron’s officers and men who have given their lives on the continent during Operation DEEPFREEZE. A feature for the seventh squadron fatality is currently being considered and will probably be accepted.
By the end of DEEPFREEZE 61 photomapping flights, the photographers received a number of congratulatory comments.
Said Captain Munson, “The squadron can be proud of the extraordinary accomplishments of the photo department during this operation. The success of the pilots, crewmen and photographers is a source of personal pride and a credit to the Navy.”
Said Dr. T. O. Jones, head of U. S. Antarctic Research Program, “The Chief Topographic Engineer of the U. S. Geological Survey joins with me in expressing our congratulations to your photo officer and members of the VX-6 photo and lab team. Their accomplishments in spite of trying weather and communications conditions have been highly commendable.”
And Admiral Tyree: “Antarctic photomapping was one of the most successfully executed of all the projects undertaken by the Navy in DEEPFREEZE 61. This year’s program was also the most extensive ever completed during DEEPFREEZE, covering as it did over 100,000 square miles.
“Aside from its value to cartographers and geographers, aerial photography is an important key to the doors of the frozen land. Photomapping gives the world access to valuable data from which we can expect to expand Antarctic exploration and research and bring closer the possibility of useful development of the ice age continent.
“Naturally, I am very pleased with the results of this year’s aerial exploration and I am most proud of men whose technical skill and professional enthusiasm achieved such splendid results.”
CHIEF JOURNALIST SCOT MACDoNALD was an instructor at the Navy School of Journalism from 1949 to 1952 and then spent two years on the staff of Commander, Destroyer Atlantic. From 1954 to 1956, he was in New Orleans with the Military Sea Transportation Service and then went to the Arctic as a roving journalist providing sole coverage on NORTHWEST PASSAGE in 1957 and 1958. He joined Air Development Squadron Six in 1958 and took part in DEEPFREEZE IV, spending 1960 and 1961 in the Antarctic. At the present time he is Associate Editor of the Naval Aviation News and in his spare time he is writing a book on the history of the VX-6 squadron which will be published by the J. B. Lippincott Company.