1956: It Was a Very Cold Place to Land, But Whatever Will Be, Will Be


October 31, 1956

[Photo courtesy of McDonnell Douglas.]

The first-ever aircraft landing at the South Pole took place as a key part of Operation Deep Freeze II, the codename for a series of U.S. missions to Antarctica during 1956-57. The U.S. Navy plane used for this touching down at Earth’s southernmost point was a ski-equipped R4D-5L Skytrain commanded by Rear Admiral George J. Dufek; the aircraft was nicknamed “Que Sera Sera” after a popular song that had been introduced earlier that year in the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew Too Much. The purpose of the flight was to survey the South Pole for the construction of a scientific research station there.

Dufek and his all-Navy crew took off in their plane from what was then a naval air facility at McMurdo Sound on Ross Island near Antarctica. Those on the flight with Dufek were Lieutenant Commander Conrad S. “Gus” Shinn, pilot; Captain William M. Hawkes, co-pilot; Lieutenant John R. Swadener, navigator; John P. Strider, AD2 (aviation machinist’s mate petty officer 2nd class), crew chief; William A. Cumbie, Jr., AT2 (aviation electronics technician petty officer 2nd class), radioman; and Captain Douglas L. Cordiner, observer.

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