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The Airship Norge
Conquers the North Pole:
A Feat for Pirelli, Too

On 14 May 1926, at 7.30 in the morning, the Norge airship touched down in Alaska. In Teller, to be precise, slightly ahead of schedule, due to unfavourable weather conditions. There was no one on the ground to direct the operation and, upon landing, the airship fell apart. The two captains, Umberto Nobile, a brilliant Italian aeronautics engineer, and Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, decided to sell what was left of it on the spot. But the mission had been accomplished: a few days earlier, they had flown over the North Pole, where they had dropped the flags of Italy, Norway, and the United States. The inclusion of the American flag was in honour of the industrialist-explorer Lincoln Ellsworth, who had financed the mission. The airship, which was built by Nobile himself, left from Ciampino, near Rome, on 10 April 1926. The plan was to reach Norway and the Svalbard islands and then fly over the North Pole and land on American soil. A total of 13,000 kilometres, to be covered in 170 hours of flying. And thus it was that the mission ended 44 days later in Teller, at latitude 65° north: the North Pole had been conquered.

The “giant of the skies” was doubly Italian, for it was made using an airtight rubber fabric that could protect it from arctic temperatures. The material had been created in Pirelli’s rubber laboratories in the Milano Bicocca plant, which had been studying the art of flight for some time in those far-off days in the 1920s. Air balloons and aeroplane tyres were at the heart of the research work carried out by technicians and engineers, who were certain that the sky was the new way to go. Alberto Pirelli had already experienced flight when, in 1908, he became the first Italian to fly with Wilbur Wright from the Camp d’Auvours near Le Mans. “Wonderful flight today with Wright”, he wrote in a telegram to his family “Arriving Milan 6.40 Monday morning”.

An epic feat to remember, like that of the Norge, which already in 1922 had gone on show in miniature in the Rubber Museum set up at the Bicocca to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Pirelli Group.

On 14 May 1926, at 7.30 in the morning, the Norge airship touched down in Alaska. In Teller, to be precise, slightly ahead of schedule, due to unfavourable weather conditions. There was no one on the ground to direct the operation and, upon landing, the airship fell apart. The two captains, Umberto Nobile, a brilliant Italian aeronautics engineer, and Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, decided to sell what was left of it on the spot. But the mission had been accomplished: a few days earlier, they had flown over the North Pole, where they had dropped the flags of Italy, Norway, and the United States. The inclusion of the American flag was in honour of the industrialist-explorer Lincoln Ellsworth, who had financed the mission. The airship, which was built by Nobile himself, left from Ciampino, near Rome, on 10 April 1926. The plan was to reach Norway and the Svalbard islands and then fly over the North Pole and land on American soil. A total of 13,000 kilometres, to be covered in 170 hours of flying. And thus it was that the mission ended 44 days later in Teller, at latitude 65° north: the North Pole had been conquered.

The “giant of the skies” was doubly Italian, for it was made using an airtight rubber fabric that could protect it from arctic temperatures. The material had been created in Pirelli’s rubber laboratories in the Milano Bicocca plant, which had been studying the art of flight for some time in those far-off days in the 1920s. Air balloons and aeroplane tyres were at the heart of the research work carried out by technicians and engineers, who were certain that the sky was the new way to go. Alberto Pirelli had already experienced flight when, in 1908, he became the first Italian to fly with Wilbur Wright from the Camp d’Auvours near Le Mans. “Wonderful flight today with Wright”, he wrote in a telegram to his family “Arriving Milan 6.40 Monday morning”.

An epic feat to remember, like that of the Norge, which already in 1922 had gone on show in miniature in the Rubber Museum set up at the Bicocca to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Pirelli Group.

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