Top of the world

 - May 9, 2008, 7:12 AM

In a world in which one can, by means of a relatively inexpensive handheld GPS, determine one’s position within two feet, there just aren’t a lot of exploration challenges left. And now, thanks to a pair of intrepid Robinson R44 pilots, there’s one less. For in late June, it was only recently announced, UK helo pilots Steve Brooks (left) and Quentin Smith flew Brooks’ R44 to the North Pole, making it the first piston helicopter ever to land at that conceptual destination, existing as it does as a concept in navigation, not as a physical landmark.

The two pilots accomplished their feat by leaving Anchorage, Alaska, in G-NUDE (the R44’s UK registration) flying north to cross the Arctic Circle and then heading along the Northwest Passage to Resolute Bay in Canada. From there, G-NUDE and an accompanying Twin Otter carrying fuel for the helicopter’s last big push northward flew to Ward Hunt Island, a traditional launching site for those in search of the Pole.

The push to the Pole was uneventful, after some confusion over the location of a previously cached fuel dump resulted in Brooks’ being left on the ice with a rifle, handheld radio and a tent for 10 hr while Smith flew to locate the fuel.

Locating the Pole at 90 deg north, Smith and Brooks landed and carved out a shallow hole in the icepack to serve as a chilling bucket for a ceremonial bottle of bubbly. After posing for a rotors-turning, automatically snapped photo, above, the two made an uneventful flight back to Ward Hunt Island and the relative creature comforts of the outskirts of civilization in that part of the world.