Norwegian military pilot, engineer and polar explorer.
Bernt Balkhen was born in the city of Tveit, a commune of Kristiansand in southern Norway. Thanks to Father Bernt, a love for nature was instilled from childhood. He spent a lot of time hiking, doing hunting, fishing, and skiing. During World War I, Balkhen served first as part of the French Foreign Legion, in after and in the Norwegian army. In 1918, he volunteered for Finland, where a civil war broke out. Fighting against the Red Guard, he was seriously injured.
After this, Balkhen was sent to Norway for treatment of bayonet wounds, which he received in battle. During rehabilitation, he began to train actively and by 1920 became a candidate for the Norwegian boxing team for the 1920 Summer Olympics. In parallel with this, he filed a petition for enrollment in the Navy of Norway. Ironically, the answers about the approval of his candidacy from the Olympic Committee and the Norwegian Navy came simultaneously: Balkhen made a choice to serve in the army. He was sent to serve in the Norwegian naval forces, and in 1924 became a test pilot.
In 1925, Balkhen was a pilot of the Amundsen-Ellsworth rescue expedition to Svalbard; The following year, he was part of the Amundsen-Ellsworth-Nobile Arctic Expedition.
Together with Richard Baird, he made two historical expeditions: as the main pilot during a transatlantic flight in 1927 and a flight to the South Pole in 1929.
In 1931, by Act of Congress, Balkhen was granted US citizenship. After he flew a Douglas C-54 Skymaster cargo plane across the North Pole from Alaska to Norway in 1949, Balkhen became the world's first pilot to fly over both poles.
After that, he directed his efforts to the creation of the Norwegian Airlines and the Northern Postal Union, and also initiated the conclusion of an aviation agreement between Norway and the United States. Since the beginning of World War II, he decided to join the Royal Air Force of Great Britain, but as a result, on September 5, 1941, he was enlisted in the US Air Force. As Colonel Balkhen, he was responsible for the construction, organization and command of the military base “Bluie West-8” in Greenland from October 1941 to January 1943. From January 1943 he was appointed responsible for aviation between Great Britain and Sweden, as well as other secret aviation missions until the end of the war. April 20, 1946 left military service and engaged in the organization of the Scandinavian airline system. On October 11, 1948, he was again called up to serve in the US Air Force and was appointed commander of the 10th Squadron of the Air Rescue Service in Elmendorf, Alaska until July 1950. In 1949, he flew a Douglas C-54 Skymaster without stopping from Alaska to Norway and thus became the first person to fly a plane over both poles.
In August 1951, Balkhen became an assistant for Arctic activities at the US Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon, which he held until his retirement in October 1956. In 1973 he was introduced to the National Aviation Hall of Fame of the United States, in 1974 - to the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame (thus becoming the first non-Canadian to receive this honor).
Died in Mount Kisco, Westchester County, New York, USA. Buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Mountains on the eastern shore of the Vide fjord, Ny-Friesland, the island of Western Spitsbergen. The coordinates are 79° 35.0'N 16° 00'E.
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