News & Opinion | July 6, 2018 12:11 pm

Looking Back at When Pan Am Flight 50 Flew From Pole to Pole

Only three planes have circumnavigated the world via the North Pole to the South Pole in an airliner.

pan am
(aviation-images.com/UIG via Getty Images)
UIG via Getty Images

Only three planes have circumnavigated the world via the North Pole to the South Pole in an airliner, mainly because it is a very long ride. The aircraft that was able to do it first became available in the mid-1960s, and even then, it has to stop to refuel as it flies across several oceans and parts of the remote Arctic and Antarctic.

Meet Brian Baum. In 1977, Baum was an 18-year-old aviation enthusiast who used his $2,222 of his savings to buy a ticket on Pan Am Flight 50. He knew this flight was likely to make history by setting a speed record for a polar circumnavigation. The total time ended up being 54 hours, seven minutes and 12 seconds. The plane took off in San Francisco, flew over the North Pole, and stopped in London. It refueled and headed to South Africa, and then flew over the South Pole, landed in New Zealand and went back to San Francisco. It was the first flight that was affordable to people that were not super-rich.

What do you pack? Barely anything. Passengers were limited to a single carry-on bag per person. You cleaned up using whatever you could in the bathroom. Baum had a window seat, 17A, and had a once-in-a-lifetime tour of the poles he will never forget.

Another such flight is scheduled for Oct. 26, departing from New York’s JFK International Airport with about 150 passengers. The Polar Express will go from JFK to Argentina, fly over the South Pole and head to Perth, Australia. Then it will go to Beijing, head over the North Pole and land back at JFK.