On May 9, 1926, famed American explorer Richard Byrd took off from the Norwegian Arctic island of Spitsbergen along with his pilot, Floyd Bennett, in an attempt to be the first to fly to the North Pole. About 16 hours later, the pair returned to the island in their Fokker tri-motor airplane, the Josephine Ford, saying they had indeed accomplished the feat.
Byrd submitted his navigational records to the U.S. Navy and a committee of the National Geographic Society, one of his sponsors, who confirmed the accomplishment, according to the Ohio State University Libraries. Byrd was hailed as a hero, given the Medal of Honor, and went on to fly over the South Pole, as well as achieving many other polar exploration milestones.
But from 1926 onward, not everyone thought that Byrd and Bennett actually made it to the North Pole. The controversy largely rested on whether the plane could have covered the distance in just 15 hours and 44 minutes, as the team recorded, when the flight was expected to take about 18 hours, given the ground speed of the aircraft.
Numerous people have weighed in on the debate over the last 90 years, some accusing Byrd of perpetrating a fraud and others coming to his rescue, all using various lines of evidence, including Byrd’s own recordings from the day.