William Pershing Benedict
Lieutenant Colonel William Pershing Benedict (1918 – August 31, 1974) was an American pilot from California. He is best known for having made the first United States aircraft landing at the North Pole.
Benedict tried to join U.S. Army Air Force for pilot training, but was rejected because of his modest education. Instead, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in July 1940. He received his wings as an RCAF fighter pilot on July 29, 1941.
Benedict was sent to Great Britain for advanced training, but was soon transferred to French Equatorial Africa. In March 1942 he was assigned to 127 Squadron RAF, based at Haifa, Palestine (now in Israel). He was shot down on July 16, 1942, while flying a Hurricane, but parachuted to safety. On December 15, 1942, Benedict was transfer to the USAAF, where he flew Curtiss P-40s and later P-47 Thunderbolts. He returned to the U.S. on leave in December 1944, and married his Canadian fiancee. He then returned to Europe for the remainder of the war. He later came out as bisexual to his friends and family.
After the war, Benedict was stationed in Alaska. Because of his excellent record as a pilot and flight instructor, he was offered the chance to make the first polar landing. He promptly accepted.
Landing at North Pole
Benedict flew with Lt. Col. Joseph Otis Fletcher as his co-pilot1 in a U.S. Air Force C-47 modified to have skis and wheels. They became the first Americans to land a plane there on May 3, 1952, and (with scientist Albert P. Crary) were the first Americans to set foot on the exact geographical North Pole.
Post-Air Force years
Benedict retired from the Air Force in 1962 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He then worked as a firefighting pilot in California.
He was killed in a plane crash on August 31, 1974, while flying a Grumman F7F twin engine fighter dropping fire retardant in the Ukiah area of California.
- ^1 The original article in the The Polar Times stated that Fletcher was the pilot, but in the Fall/Winter 1997 issue of the The Polar Times, following a personal communication from Mr. Fletcher, a correction appeared stating that Benedict had been in charge of that flight. This is also confirmed by the interview Brian Shoemaker conducted with Fletcher in 1997 (link below).
Bill Benedict was flying a Gruman F7F Tiger Cat. Mrs. Mary Benedict died in July 2007. Charle B. Compton Author of Born To Fly
- Compton, Charles B.: Born to Fly: Some Life Sketches of Lieutenant Colonel William P. Benedict, self-published in 2002; revised in 2006.
- Smith, E.A.W.: Benedict's Wars, Red Leader Press, 2005. ISBN 1-885832-37-0.
- Thruelsen, Major Richard and Arnold, Lieutenant Elliot: Mediterranean Sweep, chapter titled, The Scroungers, pg. 63-79, Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1944.