DALLAS – Today in Aviation, SAS Scandinavian Airline System (SK) commenced the world’s first regular polar air service in 1957.
The flight was operated by one of the airline’s Douglas DC-7Cs (LN-MOD) named ‘Guttorm Viking.’ It departed Copenhagen, Denmark at 11:35 UTC, bound for Tokyo, Japan, via Anchorage, Alaska, and overflying the North Pole. The flight crew included Captain Hedell Hansen and Captain Kare Herfjord.
At the same time, another of the carrier’s DC-7Cs (LN-MOE), ‘Reidar Viking,’ departed Tokyo bound for Copenhagen. Forty-five passengers were onboard, including Prince and Princess Mikasa of Japan. The two aircraft convened over the North Pole at 21:37 UTC.
The Guttorm Viking carried 47 people, including Prince Axel of Denmark and Thor Heyerdahl (Kon-Tiki). Reidar Viking transported 45 people, including Japan’s Prince and Princess Mikasa.
Hundreds of media representatives and over a thousand people were invited to the send-off from Kbenhavns Lufthavn, Kastrup, by SAS. The second fully-fueled and serviced DC-7C was waiting to verify that there were no problems that would cause the departure to be delayed.
The ground-breaking Guttorm Viking flight shaved 2,000 miles (3,219 km) off the original routing. It also shaved 18 hours off the flight time, taking 32 hours instead of 50. The airliner would return on February 28, after 71 hours, 6 minutes.
Polar Flights in the Making
SAS had been working on developing the capabilities of polar flights since the 1940s. Along with US company Bendix Aviation and aviation experts, SAS developed three critical solutions. These were a high-precision gyrocompass, the Greenwich Grid System, and the solar compass.
On November 19, 1952, the airline put the new systems to the test when it operated an exploratory flight across the North Pole. It was operated by one of the airlines that had recently delivered DC-6Bs ‘Arild Viking.’ The route saw the airliner depart Los Angeles bound for Copenhagen and make stops at Edmonton and Thule.
SAS would operate 14 Douglas DC-7Cs, although they would eventually be replaced by the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8. Guttorn Viking and Reidar Viking would go on to be scrapped in 1968.
Featured image: Passengers alighting from a SAS DC-6: Note the upper row of windows, indicating this was built as the optional sleeper variant of the original-length DC-6. Photo: Sba2 assumed (based on copyright claims). Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1831869