The Norge was a semi-rigid Italian-built airship that carried out the first verified trip of any kind to the North Pole, an overflight on 12 May 1926. It was also the first aircraft to fly over the polar ice cap between Europe and America. The expedition was the brainchild of polar explorer and expedition leader Roald Amundsen, the airship's designer and pilot Umberto Nobile and the wealthy American adventurer and explorer Lincoln Ellsworth who, along with the Aero Club of Norway, financed the trip, which was known as the Amundsen-Ellsworth 1926 Transpolar Flight.

Other name(s) N-1, I-SAAN (Italian registration number)
Type N-class semi-rigid airship
Manufactured 1923
First flight March 1924 as N-1; April 1926 as Norge
Owners and operators Umberto Nobile et al
Fate Dismantled at Teller, Alaska, for transport to Europe. Never flown again.

Design and development edit

Fragments from the Norge's tail

Norge was the first N-class semi-rigid airship designed by Italian aeronautical engineer Umberto Nobile and its construction began in 1923. As part of the sales contract to the Aero Club, the airship was refitted for Arctic conditions. The pressurised envelope was reinforced with metal frames at the nose and tail, with a flexible tubular metal keel connecting the two. This was covered with fabric and used as storage and crew space. Three engine gondolas and the separate control cabin were attached to the bottom of the keel. Norge was the first Italian semi-rigid to be fitted with the cruciform tail fins first developed by the Schütte-Lanz company.[citation needed]

On 15 April 1924, the N-1 was carried away from its base at Ciampino aerodrome by a violent wind gust. Two soldiers and a mechanic, who were unable to let go from the mooring lines, were carried 300 feet and dashed to death.[1]

Polar expedition edit

In 1925, Amundsen telegraphed Nobile asking to meet him at Oslo, where he proposed an airship trip across the Arctic. With a contract in place, Nobile modified the already completed N-1 for flight in arctic weather.[2] As the expedition was being financed by the Aero Club of Norway, the refitted N-1 was christened the Norge (English: Norway).[2]

Norge on take off at Ciampino Airport

On 29 March 1926 at a ceremony at Ciampino aerodrome the Norge was handed over to the Aero Club of Norway.[3] The flight north was due to leave Rome on 6 April but was delayed due to strong winds and departed at 09:25 on 10 April. The ship arrived at RNAS Pulham Airship Station in England at 15:20; because of the bad weather was not moored in the hangar until 18:30.[4] Delayed again by weather, the Norge left Pulham for Oslo at 11:45 on 12 April.[5]

At 01:00 on 15 April 1926, the Norge left Ekeberg in Oslo for Gatchina near Leningrad; after a 17-hour flight, the airship arrived at 19:30, delayed by dense fog along the way.[6] Following the arrival at Gatchina, Nobile announced that the Norge would remain in the airship shed for a week for engine overhaul and maintenance; this included the addition of collapsible rubber boats for emergency use.[7][8] Although scheduled to leave Gatchina as soon as the weather allowed after 24 April, the departure was delayed another week as the mooring mast at King's Bay, Spitsbergen had not yet been completed due to adverse weather.[9] Although Nobile was anxious to leave for Spitsbergen even if the mast and shed were not completed as he was concerned about the weather, the departure from Gatchina was postponed once again.[10][11]

Mast in Ny-Ålesund

The Norge finally left Gatchina at 09:40 on 5 May to proceed to Vadsø in northern Norway, where the airship mast is still standing today. The expedition then crossed the Barents Sea to reach King's Bay at Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard.[12] There Nobile met Richard Evelyn Byrd preparing his Fokker Trimotor for his North Pole attempt.[12] Nobile explained the Norge trip was to observe the uncharted sea between the Pole and Alaska where some believed land was; at the time he thought Robert Edwin Peary had already reached the pole.[12] This would be the last stop before crossing the pole. The dirigible left Ny-Ålesund for the final stretch across the polar ice on 11 May at 9:55.[13]

Mast in Vadsø

The 16-man expedition included Amundsen, the expedition leader and navigator; Nobile, the dirigible's designer and pilot; Lincoln Ellsworth, American outdoorsman and expedition sponsor, and polar explorer Oscar Wisting who served as helmsman. Other crew members were 1st Lt. Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen, navigator; 1st Lt. Emil Horgen, elevatorman; Capt. Birger Gottwaldt, radio expert, Dr Finn Malmgren of Uppsala University, meteorologist;[12] Fredrik Ramm, journalist; Frithjof Storm-Johnsen, radioman; Flying Lt. Oscar Omdal, flight engineer; Natale Cecioni, chief mechanic; Renato Alessandrini, rigger; Ettore Arduino, Attilio Caratti and Vincenzo Pomella, mechanics. Nobile's little dog, Titina, also came aboard as mascot.[12]

On 12 May at 01:25 (GMT) the Norge reached the North Pole, at which point the Norwegian, American and Italian flags were dropped from the airship onto the ice.[14] Relations between Amundsen and Nobile, which had been lukewarm at best, were aggravated by the freezing and noisy conditions in the dirigible's cramped, unheated control car, and deteriorated further when Amundsen saw that the Italian flag dropped by Nobile was larger than either of the others. Amundsen later recalled with scorn that Nobile, had tossed several flags and banners overboard and the Norge had become "a circus wagon of the skies", an occurrence Nobile claimed Amundsen had greatly exaggerated.[15]

After crossing the pole, the airship's propellers became encrusted with ice to such an extent that pieces breaking off were flung against the outer cover, causing several rips and tears in the fabric.

The ice forming on the propellers as we went through the fog, and hurled against the underside of the bag, had pretty well scarred up the fabric covering the keel, though it had not opened up the gas bags or caused any hydrogen loss. We had used up all our cement in repairing the fabric..."[12]

On 14 May, the Norge reached the Inupiat village of Teller, Alaska, where in view of worsening weather, the decision was made to land there rather than continue on to Nome, approximately 70 miles away.[12] The airship was reportedly damaged somehow during the landing and was dismantled and shipped back to Italy.

The three previous claims to have arrived at the North Pole—by Frederick Cook in 1908, Robert Peary in 1909, and Richard E. Byrd in 1926 (just a few days before the Norge)—are all disputed as being either of dubious accuracy or outright fraud. Some of those disputing these earlier claims therefore consider the crew of the Norge to be the first verified explorers to have reached the North Pole.

Specifications (Norge) edit

General characteristics

  • Capacity: Payload 9,500 kg (20,900 lb)
  • Length: 106 m (347 ft 9 in)
  • Diameter: 26 m (85 ft 4 in)
  • Volume: 19,000 m3 (670,000 cu ft) of gaseous Hydrogen
  • Powerplant: 3 × Maybach Mb.IV 6-cyl. water-cooled in-line piston engine, 190 kW (260 hp) each


  • Maximum speed: 115 km/h (71 mph, 62 kn)

See also edit

References edit

Footnotes edit

  1. ^ "3 Dashed to Death As Italian Airship Is Carried Away". Evening Star. No. 29, 204. Washington, District of Columbia: Library of Congress. Associated Press. 15 April 1924. p. 1. Retrieved 15 April 2024.
  2. ^ a b Christopher 2010, p. 79
  3. ^ "Capt. Amundsen's Airship". The Times. No. 44233. London. 30 March 1926. p. 13.
  4. ^ "The Flight to the Pole - Italian Airship at Pulham". The Times. No. 44243. London. 12 April 1926. p. 14.
  5. ^ "The Polar Airship - Start for Oslo Last Night". The Times. No. 44245. London. 13 April 1926. p. 16.
  6. ^ "The Norge's Voyage". The Times. No. 44245. London. 16 April 1926. p. 14.
  7. ^ "The Norge at Gatchina". The Times. No. 44248. London. 17 April 1926. p. 11.
  8. ^ "The Norge". The Times. No. 44257. London. 28 April 1926. p. 15.
  9. ^ "Norge's Voyage Delayed". The Times. No. 44255. London. 26 April 1926. p. 13.
  10. ^ "The Norge". The Times. No. 44259. London. 30 April 1926. p. 14.
  11. ^ "Norge's Voyage Delayed". The Times. No. 44258. London. 29 April 1926. p. 15.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Nobile
  13. ^ Kumpch 1996
  14. ^ Kumpch 1996. 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 °C (12 °F).
  15. ^ Kumpch 1996: "Zirkuswagen am Himmel"

Sources edit

External links edit