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Santa’s Balloons and Arctic Airships

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Christmas Greetings

X-Mas Greetings - Success, Prosperity, Good Will. Chromolithograph postcard, c. 1910.

Although the reindeer-powered sleigh is the form of transportation most usually associated with Santa Claus, the right jolly old elf displays an unexpected interest in lighter than air flight by launching festive fire balloons over the North Pole while a polar bear watches admiringly.

Santa wasn’t the last to attempt an LTA mission to the Pole, though – on May 11, 1926, the airship Norge took off from Spitsbergen, Norway. The crew included Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen and Lincoln Ellsworth, and the airship was commanded by its designer, Umberto Nobile (and accompanied by his terrier Titina). The Norge flew over the North Pole on May 12, and the crew dropped Norwegian, American and Italian flags over the Pole. The Norge landed near Nome in Teller, Alaska on the 15th.

But a later North Pole airship expedition, the Italia flight of 1928, ended tragically. Commanded once again by Umberto Nobile, Italia overflew the Pole on May 23 but crashed on the ice the following day. Roald Amundsen took part in the international rescue effort to save Nobile and his crew. Amundsen’s plane went missing on June 18 in the Barents Sea; he and his crew of five were never found.

Umberto Nobile

Umberto Nobile and Titina following the flight of the Norge, 1926.

Allan Janus is a museum specialist in the Museum’s Archives Division.

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4 thoughts on “Santa’s Balloons and Arctic Airships

  1. Pingback: » Santa's Balloons and Arctic Airships « AirSpace

  2. The story of “Itália” also ties in with that great technology that promised, on other level, to unite and make mankind come to grips with itself: radio. And it was a russian ham that help save Nobile and his crew.

  3. Pingback: Aviation News December 25, 2010 :: N8JW

  4. Pingback: The Santa Claus Express, Then and Now « AirSpace

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