Harold June

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Harold Irving June
Born (1895-02-12)February 12, 1895
Stamford, Connecticut
Died 1962 (aged 66–67)
Windsor, Connecticut
Nationality American
Known for

Harold Irving June (1895–1962) was a machinist, an aviator, a test pilot, and an explorer in Antarctica. He is best known for his 1928-1930 service in the first Antarctic expedition of Admiral Richard E. Byrd. Sitting in the co-pilot's seat with supplemental radio duties, he flew with Byrd, pilot Bernt Balchen, and photographer Ashley McKinley over the South Pole on November 29, 1929.


Born in Stamford, Connecticut on February 12, 1895, he studied in the one-room schools of the day. Leaving Stamford High School after one year, he apprenticed in a machine shop in 1908. After working as a repairman, salesman, and traveling repairman for his apprenticeship works, he signed in 1911, at age 16, to a berth as a steam engine engineer on a ferryboat that served Prudence Island in Narrangansett Bay. This, in turn, gave him the credentials to be hired in 1911-1912 as a full-fledged machinist at Herreshoff Boatyard in Bristol, Rhode Island.[1]

This credential, in turn, gave the teenager connections to Newport, Rhode Island's Vanderbilt family and in 1912 young June became an engineer for the steam pleasure yachts of railroad magnate Harold S. Vanderbilt. With the entry of the United States into World War I in 1917, both Vanderbilt and June joined the colors, with June serving as Chief Machinist Mate and taking on duties of increasing responsibility throughout the Navy's Rhode Island infrastructure.[1]

After the war June turned to naval aviation, training in 1922 at Naval Air Station Pensacola. After getting his wings he rose quickly through the opportunities afforded by the technology of the time, piloting flying boats and scout planes launched from catapults. He became a U.S. Navy test pilot in 1925, and served out of Hampton Roads until selected, in 1928, by U.S. Navy Commander Richard E. Byrd to be a junior officer on his 1928-1930 expedition to the Ross Ice Shelf.[1][2]

Byrd's exploration ship reached the ice shelf on December 25, 1928. The base camp, called Little America, was in operation within weeks, and the first ski-plane flight took off on January 10, 1929. The expedition, well-equipped with supplies purchased from donations from some of the principal U.S. magnates of the Roaring Twenties, was eager to explore the above-sea-level sectors of Antarctica that bordered the ice shelf. The Rockefeller Mountains were sighted from the air on January 27. On March 8 June, Balchen, and geologist Larry Gould, aboard the expedition's Fokker Universal, flew from Little America to land as close as possible to the Rockefeller range to collect geological specimens.


Balchen, Gould, and June were supposed to collect specimens from the newly discovered icy mountain range and return to base, but their plane did not return and the missing field party maintained an ominous radio silence. After ten days, expedition leader Byrd flew a rescue mission in search of the lost threesome. On March 18 the three men were found clinging to life inside a shredded tent pitched at the foot of the mountain range. They had inadvertently landed in a site marked by exceptionally strong katabatic winds that vortexed down from the mountains. After the field party had spiked their plane down into the ice, set up a field meteorological station, pitched a field tent, did some triangulation survey work, and collected some rocks, hurricane-force winds had blown down the slope at a speed timed at 150 miles per hour. The Category 4 winds wrenched the Fokker off its moorings and the steel plane blew away, leaving the field party marooned.[3]

A series of rescue flights with a smaller plane, beginning on March 18 and ending on March 22, slowly collected all three men and returned them safely to Little America. The shattered remains of the missing Fokker monoplane were discovered one-half mile (0.8 km) away from the failed ground mooring.[3]

South Pole mission and other flights[edit]

With two remaining planes, the Byrd Expedition remained in base camp at Little America during the Antarctic winter of 1929. Field work resumed in October and after several preparatory flights, the Ford Tri-Motor scheduled to fly over the South Pole took off southward on November 28. While this was to be the first penetration by an aircraft over the Antarctic Plateau, the route itself was generally familiar to Byrd and his men, because they flew close to the pathway used by Roald Amundsen in his successful ground-level expedition to the South Pole in late 1911. With difficulty, the Tri-Motor cleared the Queen Maud Mountains and attained the Pole. Aboard the plane, June keyed a radio signal:

We have reached the vicinity of the South Pole. We can see an almost unlimited polar plateau.[4]

Relayed to the American press, this Morse code message announced the successful attainment of the expedition's principal goal.[1][3]

After the Tri-Motor's triumphant landing later on November 29, June accompanied his newly promoted rear admiral as co-pilot on additional exploration flying work across an adjacent area of Antarctica. Byrd, as the flight crew's commanding officer and principal passenger, sketched the land from the air and named it Marie Byrd Land after his wife. The flights charted the Edsel Ford Range and Sulzberger Bay, geographic features named for additional key financial donors to the expedition. The expedition closed their Little America base; their ship weighed anchor and sailed north from the Ross Ice Shelf on February 7, 1930, arriving in New York City on June 18–19.[1][3]

Family and honors[edit]

Flier June was quickly honored by the community where he had been born. A triumphal medal, luncheon, and dinner of honor were proffered to him by leading citizens of Stamford on June 26, 1930.[1] He returned to active service as a test pilot with the U.S. Navy, serving through World War II. When he retired in 1947, he was chief test pilot at Naval Air Station Alameda.[2]

June had married May Foster in June 1914, and fathered a daughter, Marguarite June, born in 1915.[1] The tri-motored South Polar plane co-piloted by June, named the Floyd Bennett after a deceased former flier with earlier Byrd expeditions, was returned to its donors, the Ford Motor Company, and preserved at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Harold June died in Windsor, Connecticut in 1962. June's polar papers were donated, with the Byrd archive, to Ohio State University.[2]

The June Nunatak, an Antarctic rocky outcropping of the Liv Glacier, was named in honor of co-pilot June in 1961-62, three decades after the successful flight by the Floyd Bennett up and over the same glacier in 1929.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Harold I. June: In Appreciation of "Stamford's Known Traveler"". Stamford Historical Society. Retrieved 2013-02-09. 
  2. ^ a b c "Harold Irving June". Ohio State University. Retrieved 2013-02-09. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Richard E. Byrd: 1888-1857". south-pole.com. Retrieved 2013-02-09. 
  4. ^ "Polar Byrd". Time. 1929-12-09. Retrieved 2013-02-12.