Launched: 9 December 2006. Last updated:

We've been saying Coming Soon for a long time so rather than wait any longer we're going to put up an welcomed entry from Richard Paul Smyers:

Aircraft Used on Antarctic Expeditions
1901 to 1914

By definition, an aircraft is a "machine that can be flown in the air." Airships and balloons are classified as 'Lighter Than Air Craft', while airplanes, helicopters, autogyros and gliders are 'Heavier Than Air Craft'. Therefore, the first aircraft of any sort to be flown in the Antarctic were the captive balloons used by the [British] National Antarctic Expedition of 1901-1904, and the German South Polar Expedition of 1901-1903. The Australian Antarctic Expedition of 1912-1914 was the first to start out with an airplane, by taking a Vickers-built R.E.P. monoplane with it. Unfortunately this aircraft's wings were damaged beyond repair in a practice flight before leaving Australia, and the Vickers monoplane never flew in the Antarctic. However, it did become the first airplane (or a major part of one) to reach Antarctica.

Expeditions and Their Aircraft

German South Polar Expedition [1901 - 1903]

Captive balloon
National Antarctic Expedition [1901 - 1904]
British Army captive balloon Eva
Second British Army captive balloon
Australasian Antarctic Expedition [1912 - 1914]
Vickers No. 1 monoplane
Details on Individual Aircraft
British Army captive balloon Eva
8,500 cubic feet volume
First of two balloons taken south in 1901 on the Discovery. Made first ascent on February 4, 1902, carrying Robert Falcon Scott. This was the first flight in Antarctica by any type of aircraft. A second ascent was then made the same day, carrying Ernest Shackleton. Location was a small bay in the Ross Ice Barrier, near the future location of the Bay of Whales.
British Army captive balloon
[volume not known]
Second of two balloons taken south in 1901 on the Discovery. Apparently this balloon was not flown in the Antarctic.
German captive balloon
[volume not known]
Balloon taken south in 1901 on the German vessel Gauss. Made ascent on Saturday, March 29, 1902, carrying Erich Dagobert von Drygalski, the leader of the Gauss expedition. A second ascent was made later the same day, carrying Captain Hans Ruser, who was the captain of the Gauss, and Dr. Emil Philippi, the chemist and geologist of the expedition.
Vickers No. 1 monoplane
1 R.E.P. 60 HP five-cylinder air-cooled semi-radial engine The very first airplane to be built by Vickers, this was a license-built French machine, designed by Robert Esnault-Pelterie. The fuselage was built in France while the wings were made in England. After being tested at Vickers' new airfield at Joyce Green, Dartford, and then at Brooklands, it was crated and shipped to Australia for use by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition. However, the wings were damaged beyond repair on October 5, 1911, during a practice flight at Cheltenham Racecourse, Adelaide, Australia, before the expedition left for the Antarctic. Minus its wings, the machine was converted into an air-tractor, and taken south, but it did not fly in the Antarctic. The first tests of the machine as an air-tractor were made on November 15, 1912. After a short trial trip on November 20, 1912, the vehicle made a successful depot-laying trip with a load of 700 pounds on December 2, 1912. At 3 PM on December 3rd, three men and the air-tractor left the expedition's base at Commonwealth Bay on a major trip. On December 4, 1912, while towing four sledges loaded with fuel and supplies, several of the pistons seized and the engine broke down. The air-tractor was left at this point, about ten miles from the base. Later another party of men recovered the air-tractor, which was taken back to Commonwealth Bay and abandoned there.
Antarctica; The Extraordinary History of Man's Conquest of the Frozen Continent
Reader's Digest (Australia) Pty. Limited, Surrey Hills, New South Wales, Australia, ©1990, ISBN 0 86438 167 0
Pages 143, 145, 211, 244

British Aircraft Before the Great War, by Michael H. Goodall and Albert E. Tagg
Schiffer Publishing Limited, Atglen, Pennsylvania, ©2001, ISBN 0-7643-1207-3
Page 318

The Home of the Blizzard; Being the Story of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914, by Sir Douglas Mawson
J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia; William Heinemann, London
Volume One, page 24; Volume Two, pages 6-11, 37.

Moments of Terror: The Story of Antarctic Aviation, by David Burke
New South Wales University Press, ©1994, ISBN 0 86840 157 9
Pages 9-11, 79, 190, 210-211, 303

Pioneer Aircraft 1903-1914, by Kenneth Munson
The Macmillan Company, New York, 1969; first published in Great Britain by Blandford Press Limited, London, ©1969, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 69-11070
Pages 65, 168-169

Shorter Oxford English Dictionary Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 5th edition, ©2002
ISBN 0-19-860457-2

The Southern Ice-Continent; The German South Polar Expedition aboard the Gauss 1901- 1903, by Erich von Drygalski; translated by M. M. Raraty
Bluntisham Books, Erskine Press, ©1989, ISBN 1 85297 031 6
(Originally published in German as Zum Kontinent des eisigen Südens: Deutsche Südpolarexpedition fahrten und forschung das 'Gauss' 1901-1903, by George Reiner, Berlin, 1904)
Pages 157-159

The Voyage of the 'Discovery,' by Captain Robert F. Scott, R.N.
Charles Scribner's Sons, New York; Smith, Elder, & Co., London, 1907
Pages 145-148


Earlier this year, Jonathan Shackleton and I were flying from Dublin to Gatwick and decided to drop in at the Gatwick Aviation Museum which is in Charlwood, right on the edge of the airport. This is quite an establishment, created and maintained by Peter Vallance, an extraordinary man.

The Museum has two Shackletons in its collection. The aircraft were used for maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine work in the 1950s and 60s. They carried a crew of 10, have a wingspan of 120 feet and are 87 feet long. If you go to the Museum's website you can learn much more.

In any event, Peter showed us around and we crawled about inside. Here are some photos. The one on the left shows Jonathan with Peter Vallance. On the right is Jonathan at the controls.

Peter Vallance and Jonathan Shackleton       Jonathan Shackleton at the controls