Polar pilot tells of his life - Smith Mountain Eagle: Local News

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Posted: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 4:32 pm | Updated: 10:46 am, Wed Apr 23, 2014.

Art Mortvedt, the first man credited with flying a single engine plane to both the North and South Poles, spoke to the SML Pilots Club on April 12. He also talked about his life in Alaska owning a nature lodge.

Mortvedt is a North Dakota native. In January 1974, he left the continental United States to live in an Alaskan village as teacher to native children for two years. During that period, he met his wife and learned about the rich culture. At one point, he took a trip to the wilderness to live a more simple life, discovering that better suited his personality.

“Never did I go back to the classroom,” Mortvedt recalled. “I like teaching, but I feel a little claustrophobic in a classroom.”

The home he founded with his wife evolved over time into a sod house, and then he built six cabins. The cramped space presented numerous challenges, especially with the slop bucket perched in the corner of the house. Later, the couple constructed a lodge on Selby Lake. The tranquil scene attracted many guests seeking to escape the chaotic nature of modern life. Mordvedt ran a sled dog team and hunted wildlife in the chilly Alaskan wilderness for food. Initially, he chartered a plane for supplies, but had another idea.

“Then, in 1981, I thought maybe its time I get a plane,’’ Mordvedt remembers.

That began his love affair with flying. Mordvedt purchased his first plane in the early 1980s. He received his pilot’s license from Arizona in 28 days and bought the small aircraft from a man in Acheson, Kansas. In the mid-1980s, Mordvedt flew a single engine plane that would become his pride, an orange airplane that he affectionately nicknamed “the Polar Pumpkin.” The Polar Pumpkin was the mode of transportation he took on excursions through the Arctic and Antarctic. Mordvedt started making trips to Antarctica in the early 1980s.

“I’ve probably made about 20 some trips to Antarctica,” Mordtvedt said. “It’s one of the most amazing parts of the world I’ve ever seen and, in some ways, a second home.”

Mordvedt flew the Polar Pumpkin for two summers, at the beginning, for researchers and tourists, digging a hole to store the plane. On November 22, 1999, Mordvedt flew to the South Pole solo, stopping at designated stations. He later set his sights on visiting the North Pole. Due to challenges of making the trip, with some failed attempts, he accomplished the feat in April 2013 of reaching the North Pole. When he flew to the North Pole, he had three GPS systems, including one in his pocket in case he needed to make an emergency landing to walk. He also mentioned that he needed to fly solo.

“It had to be a solo flight. I had so much stuff on board, I had to go alone,” Mordvedt explained.

Mordvedt said he completed some expeditions for the purposes of collecting scientific data, mostly microbiological data. While not a scientist himself, he wanted to make good use of his time rather than just have his journeys all be pleasure trips.

“I’m hoping the data will be really useful,” Mordvedt said.

Still, Mordvedt believes just meeting some of the amazing people he has encountered made the trip worth it. He gave his lecture on April 12 to the SML Pilots Club. The club has approximately 50 paying members. The meetings are normally held the third Thursday of every month, usually with a guest speaker at each meeting. Being a licensed pilot is not a requirement for attending the meetings.

Art Mortvedt, the first man credited with flying a single engine plane to both the North and South Poles, spoke to the SML Pilots Club on April 12. He also talked about his life in Alaska owning a nature lodge.

Mortvedt is a North Dakota native. In January 1974, he left the continental United States to live in an Alaskan village as teacher to native children for two years. During that period, he met his wife and learned about the rich culture. At one point, he took a trip to the wilderness to live a more simple life, discovering that better suited his personality.

“Never did I go back to the classroom,” Mortvedt recalled. “I like teaching, but I feel a little claustrophobic in a classroom.”

The home he founded with his wife evolved over time into a sod house, and then he built six cabins. The cramped space presented numerous challenges, especially with the slop bucket perched in the corner of the house. Later, the couple constructed a lodge on Selby Lake. The tranquil scene attracted many guests seeking to escape the chaotic nature of modern life. Mordvedt ran a sled dog team and hunted wildlife in the chilly Alaskan wilderness for food. Initially, he chartered a plane for supplies, but had another idea.

“Then, in 1981, I thought maybe its time I get a plane,’’ Mordvedt remembers.

That began his love affair with flying. Mordvedt purchased his first plane in the early 1980s. He received his pilot’s license from Arizona in 28 days and bought the small aircraft from a man in Acheson, Kansas. In the mid-1980s, Mordvedt flew a single engine plane that would become his pride, an orange airplane that he affectionately nicknamed “the Polar Pumpkin.” The Polar Pumpkin was the mode of transportation he took on excursions through the Arctic and Antarctic. Mordvedt started making trips to Antarctica in the early 1980s.

“I’ve probably made about 20 some trips to Antarctica,” Mordtvedt said. “It’s one of the most amazing parts of the world I’ve ever seen and, in some ways, a second home.”

Mordvedt flew the Polar Pumpkin for two summers, at the beginning, for researchers and tourists, digging a hole to store the plane. On November 22, 1999, Mordvedt flew to the South Pole solo, stopping at designated stations. He later set his sights on visiting the North Pole. Due to challenges of making the trip, with some failed attempts, he accomplished the feat in April 2013 of reaching the North Pole. When he flew to the North Pole, he had three GPS systems, including one in his pocket in case he needed to make an emergency landing to walk. He also mentioned that he needed to fly solo.

“It had to be a solo flight. I had so much stuff on board, I had to go alone,” Mordvedt explained.

Mordvedt said he completed some expeditions for the purposes of collecting scientific data, mostly microbiological data. While not a scientist himself, he wanted to make good use of his time rather than just have his journeys all be pleasure trips.

“I’m hoping the data will be really useful,” Mordvedt said.

Still, Mordvedt believes just meeting some of the amazing people he has encountered made the trip worth it. He gave his lecture on April 12 to the SML Pilots Club. The club has approximately 50 paying members. The meetings are normally held the third Thursday of every month, usually with a guest speaker at each meeting. Being a licensed pilot is not a requirement for attending the meetings.

Other Womack Publishing Company websites include: wpcva.com, aconews.com, vancnews.com, and montgomeryherald.com