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co-pilot of the first airplane flight to the North Pole
Floyd Bennett was born in Warrensburg, New York, on October 26, 1890. He attended the local schools until the age of 17, at which time he took an automotive course in Schenectady and became an auto mechanic.
Soon after the U.S. entered World War I, Bennett enlisted in the Navy as an aviation mechanic. In December of 1917, he was assigned to the Naval Air Station at Bay Shore (NY), where he remained until being promoted to Machinist Mate Second Class and transferring to the Naval Training Station at Norfolk in the spring of 1918. He transferred to the Naval Air Station at Hampton Roads later that same spring, was promoted to Machinist Mate First Class in September and to Chief Machinist Mate in February 1919. In December of 1919 he was assigned to the Naval Air Station at Pensacola, where he attended an aviation course for enlisted pilots; he returned to Hampton Roads after graduation. Choosing to stay in the Navy after the war ended, Bennett became a Chief Aviation Pilot in September of 1924, while serving aboard the USS Richmond.
In April of 1925, Bennett was assigned to the Naval Air Station at Anacostia, Washington, D.C., and it was here that he first came to the attention of Lieutenant Commander Richard E. Byrd, as a member of Byrd's Naval Air Detail of the MacMillan Arctic Expedition. Byrd was so impressed with Bennett's skill as a pilot that he asked him to be the co-pilot for a planned flight to the North Pole. On May 9, 1926, the two men flew a 3-engine Fokker monoplane (named Josephine Ford) from Spitsbergen, Greenland, to the North Pole and back, becoming the first to successfully complete such a flight. (It has since been determined that Bennett and Byrd actually miscalculated and missed the Pole, but they had still gotten closer to the Pole than any previous flight.) Both men were awarded the Medal of Honor for their feat, as well as with promotions -- Byrd to Commander and Bennett to Warrant Mechanic.
In early-1927, Bennett took the airplane he and Byrd had flown to the North Pole on a tour of America. In April of that year, he, Byrd, and airplane engineer Tony Fokker took off on a test flight of Fokker's three-engine plane. The plane turned out to be nose-heavy and crashed, nose-first, before flipping over on its side. While Byrd and Fokker escaped with minor injuries, Bennett broke several ribs, did serious damage to his back, and punctured a lung. The injury prevented Bennett from joining Byrd some months later in his attempt to transport mail over the Atlantic via airplane.
When Byrd decided to attempt an airplane flight to the South Pole, he again picked Bennett to be his co-pilot. While the Antarctic Expedition was in its planning stages, a still-healing Bennett joined fellow aviator Bernt Balchen on a mission to rescue the crew of the Bremen, the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic from west to east, which had crashed off of the coast of Labrador, Canada. During the flight, Bennett contracted pneumonia and remained afterwards in Quebec due to the illness. He died there on April 25, 1928, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
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This page was last updated on 10/26/2017.