Polar Flight 90 - The Polar Pumpkin's Journey to the North Pole


Photo of Geraldine Mocks Round the World 1953 Cessna 180 "Spirit of Columbus" on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Cessna 180s and 185s are both deemed "Sky Wagons". They are single engine high wing "tail dragger" airplanes that are considered some of the best "bush planes" ever built. In Alaska, they are commonly fitted with floats, wheels, or skis. Performance with loads is exceptional. Pilots throughout the world - particularly in remote areas - appreciate these fine aircraft. Along with the American Cessna 180/185 Club, there is the sister Australian Cessna 180/185 Club.

Several years ago, while attending an airshow in George, South Africa, I noticed a Cessna 180 parked on the ramp with an American "N" number. With a little research, I found the owner - Tom Claytor, from Radnor, Pennsylvania - who is in the process of flying this aircraft to all 7 continents. Presently, Tom is in Thailand.

Cessna 180s were first produced - at the factory in Wichita, Kansas - in 1953; and production continued until 1981. The more powerful Cessna 185 looks much like the Cessna 180; but, in addition, has a strengthened fuselage and a slightly different vertical stabilizer. The Cessna 185 was produced between 1961 and 1985. The Polar Pumpkin is a Cessna A185F, was manufactured in 1980, was sold to a Canadian buyer directly from the factory, and registered as C-GGSA. Both C180s and C185s have seating for 6 passengers; although its recommended that the two folks seated in the back be of "slight stature"!

Gerry Mock departed Columbus, Ohio in 1964 for her round the world flight - solo - in a 1953 model Cessna 180, the Spirit of Columbus. The aircraft is now on display - hanging from the ceiling - at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Ms. Mock chronicles this incredible adventure in her book "Three-Eight Charlie". Remember, that in 1964 GPS navigation was not an option.

Scientists have been conducting research in the Polar North for many decades. One of these studies, AIDJEX (Arctic Ice Dynamics Joint Experiment) - in 1972 - was the largest and most complex scientific project ever undertaken by the United States on drifting ice. Several types of aircraft supported this study - including the venerable Cessna 180. Two of these were based at the Naval Arctic Research Lab at Barrow, Alaska - funded by the United States National Science Foundation through an agreement with the Office of Naval Research. Fletchers Ice Island - also known as T-3 - floated around the Arctic Ocean for many years, and was an ideal scientific platform. The Cessna 180s were also used for the support of T-3. As recently as 2003, a Cessna 185 was utilized for snow measurement studies and aerial photographs in the Arctic.

The Cold War prompted a good deal of military activity in the Arctic - primarily in the United States (Alaska), Canada, Greenland, and Russia. One of the projects was the DEW Line - i.e. the Distant Early Warning System. This system included a series of radar stations across the Arctic, from Alaska to Greenland. One of the early participants supporting this massive project was the Canadian Bradley Air Services, Ltd. This company, in 1954 utilized a fleet of 4 Cessna 180s for charter and survey missions in this very remote naturally hostile environment. Bradley Air Services has evolved now to First Air - one of the largest air carriers in the Canadian North.

So, the Polar Pumpkin Cessna 185 - on its science based flight to the North Pole in April - was preceded by other Cessnas and aviation pioneers in the quest for good Polar Science - knowledge that we now realize to be critical in the health and welfare of us all.


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