December 31, 2003 by

Loyd E. Newcomer


Categories: Military

On April 10, 1961, Navy Cmdr. Loyd E. Newcomer became the first pilot to land in Antarctica during its winter darkness.

Newcomer, an aircraft carrier flight pilot who fought in World War II and the Korean War, did his second tour of duty with Operation Deep Freeze 61. When his squadron learned that Russian scientist Leonid Kuperov needed medical attention, they prepared to launch a mercy evacuation flight to an outpost on the frozen continent.

Despite bitter weather conditions, Newcomer flew a crew of 20 in a C-130 from Christchurch, New Zealand, to Byrd Station, Antarctica, using celestial navigation. The journey is considered so dangerous, by today’s standards, that all flights to Antarctica are still suspended between March and November. Newcomer Glacier was named in honor of this accomplishment.

“This mercy flight, in the face of diminishing daylight and increasingly vicious winter storms, breached the curtain of winter isolation for the first time. It will be long remembered as one of the great flights of Antarctic exploration,” wrote Rear Adm. David M. Tyree in a 1963 issue of National Geographic.

A recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, Newcomer retired from the Navy in 1962. He later worked as a flight instructor at Jefferson County Airport in Colorado, and as the chief research pilot at Boulder’s National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Newcomer died on Dec. 18 from respiratory failure. He was 85.

3 Responses to Loyd E. Newcomer

  1. Bob Stordeur

    I was lucky enough to fly with Loyd on several NCAR flts in Alaska in Feb 1976. Our main objective was atmospheric research at the Pt. Barrow Naval Arctic Research Lab, but during the trip Mt Augustine (SW of Anchorage) erupted giving us a great secondary mission opportunity. Some volcanologists joined us (at Elmendorf AFB, which served as base of ops) for a few days of multiple flights through the plume to monitor & sample gases. He was very upset upon learning he wasn’t warned of the rocks being ejected along with the ash and gases (which damaged a plane from UW), after which he avoided going directly over the caldera & we instead jogged into the plume downwind. We later also had a most “interesting” landing on the packed-snow runway at Pt. Barrow when the #4 outboard turboprop on the Orion P3 Electra failed to reverse and caused the plane to do a complete 360 spin around the vertical axis. Luckily the landing gear did not collapse and the crew flew back to Seattle for repairs. Loyd was the kind of person you’d follow wherever he led without question. He was also nice enough to teach me to play cowboy billiards during the off hours at EAFB officers club. It was later when I was in Antarctica that I heard he’d flown an historic winter rescue mission and I was just trying to confirm. I recall the C-130 pilots describing all the hazards – compass irregularities, ground radar penetrating the ice to variable unknown depths, lubrication & fuel freezing problems, horizon white-outs, etc. Glad to hear he lived a long life.

  2. Zinaida Uspenskaya

    The saved Russian scientist Leonid Kuperov was my late father’s university friend, and we heard the story after Leonid had returned back home. I am glad to be able to say now how Leonid admired the bravery, spirit of friendship and simple camaraderie of Americans that were helping him. He probably could not quite express these feelings at the time, and possibly this note of belated personal gratitude, as indirect as it is, can reach Loyd E. Newcomer’s family. I am glad that the brave pilot had a full and long life.

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