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Posted: 10/30/2004 3:28:19 PM EST
This Day in Naval History - Oct. 31

From the Navy News Service

1956 - Navy men land in R4D Skytrain on the ice at the South Pole.

Rear Adm. George Dufek, Capt. Douglas Cordiner, Capt. William Hawkes, Lt. Cmdr. Conrad Shinn, Lt. John Swadener, Aviation Machinist's Mate 2nd Class J. P. Strider and Aviation Machinist's Mate 2nd Class William Cumbie are the first men to stand on the South Pole since Capt. Robert F. Scott in 1912.

"Que Sera Sera" (What will be will be) made History by becoming the first aircraft to land on the South Pole on October 31st 1956. The extended Nose and extra Antenna were used for Radar. The Jato (jet assisted-take off) bottles under the fuselage were used for taking off in deeper snow.

On Oct. 31, 1956, Lt. Cdr. Gus Shinn landed the first plane at the South Pole. It was a ski-equipped R4D-5 (a Navy version of the DC-3) named "Que Sera Sera." With temperatures hovering near minus 60 F, Shinn kept the engines running while Adm. George Dufek stepped out of the plane and became the first person to stand at the Pole since Robert Scott's party, more than four decades earlier.

For every milestone like this there are people behind the scenes who play a large part, too. Pilots Eddie Frankiewicz and Jim Waldron were the rescue crew who waited in the wings that day, and they too relied upon the same model.

They landed their R4D "Charlene" on the Liv Glacier as Shinn and Dufek flew overhead. "Charlene's" engines were kept running for the better part of a day, to be ready at a moment's notice in case the historic flight to Pole needed help.

Waldron remembers the aircraft fondly.

"It was a very reliable airplane. We put it through a lot of terrible weather and cold but it was always stable and had very few failures. It was terrific for what it could do," he said.

"It was a magnificent airplane," Frankiewicz said. "It could carry a great load of ice on its wings. And with a great big barn door for a rudder it made for easy cross-wind landings," he said.

Another pilot, E.D. "Buz" Dryfoose, explained the reasons it's as good as a mid-weight aircraft in Antarctica.

"For open snow landings at the reduced weight of the R4Ds, they could land where there were possible snow bridges over crevasses that could not be seen," Dryfoose said. "The 130s would not fare as well under those circumstances with 100,000 pounds more weight."

'The R4D proved its worth time and again. On the other side of the Ross Ice Shelf at an encampment called Little America the planes would be left to winter on their own. Upon returning, the aircrew would dig the machines out of the snow, fire them up and fly away.

1. Now listen all my shipmates, I'll tell a tale to you,
about some navy pilots and the plane that they once flew,
They flew down to McMurdo, for Task Force 43,
They didn't fly an aircraft they flew an R4D.


Listen to the rattle, the rumble and the roar,
As we go down the runway in a beat-up old R-4.
You can feel the airframe shaking,
See the pilot's trembling hand.
If he don't get her airborne, we'll see the promised land.

2. A bucking and a slipping , down the ice we go,
Everyone lean forward, cause Christ! we're going slow.
Throttles through the firewall, fifteen JATOS blasting free,
I've 18 tons strapped to my back in this beat-up R4D.


3. I'm sitting in the cockpit, I can't retract the gear,
I'm running out of airspeed, this is the end I fear.
So listen all my loved ones, please say a prayer for me,
For I'm attached to VX-6, and a lousy R4D.


4. Creaking down the runway, what do my poor eyes see?
A hundred correspondents - and the gawd-damned NBC.
They've heard about this aircraft,
and they expect the worst.
They'd feel bad, if I crashed in flames,
but, they want to get it first.

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