Rockwell Polar Flight

Boeing 707-349C flown on the Rockwell Polar Flight

Image of the Boeing 707-349C flown on the Rockwell Polar Flight. From the Anderson Bakewell collection, American Heritage Center.

On November 14, 1965, the Rockwell Polar Flight began what has often been described as the last of the great firsts in polar travel. It was the first round-the-world flight to pass over both the North and South Pole, establishing eight world records for jet transports along the way. The American Heritage Center houses the Anderson Bakewell papers which contain many documents about the Polar Flight.

Mass in the Wilderness - High Sierra

Image of the Boeing 707-349C flown on the Rockwell Polar Flight. From the Anderson Bakewell collection, American Heritage Center.

Anderson Bakewell (1913-1999) was a Jesuit priest who served communities in India, Maryland, Alaska and New Mexico. During his life, Bakewell gained fame as an explorer. Before joining the Society of Jesus, he lived in South America for several years collecting specimens of rare reptiles, mammals and flora. The “adventure priest” took part in many expeditions, many of them documented in photographs and film in his papers including slides taken during trips to Alaska and Yukon Territory, and a film of “Trek to Everest”. He had advanced degrees in astronomy, mathematics and philosophy, and these studies fed his exploration trips.

He was listed as an official observer on the Polar Flight, saying a prayer at the beginning and end of each flight and a special world prayer as the plane flew over the South Pole and each of these prayers is documented in the papers. Also included are details about the flight including the navigation record, maps of the journey and newspaper clippings about the expedition. The flight began in Honolulu, flying over the North Pole to London. After an unscheduled fueling stop in Lisbon, they flew to Buenos Aires before passing over the South Pole on the way to Christchurch and the final leg back to Honolulu. Total flying time clocked in at 51 hours and 20 minutes.

Map of Polar Flight

Map of the Rockwell Polar Flight. From the Anderson Bakewell collection, American Heritage Center.

Upon completion of the trip, Anderson Bakewell sent a crucifix that he had carried with him throughout the trip with a prayer that “truly the world may resound from Pole to Pole with one cry, “Praise to the heart that wrought our salvation.”” An inventory of the Anderson Bakewell Papers can be found here.

-Chido Muchemwa, Graduate Assistant

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4 Responses to Rockwell Polar Flight

  1. Joyce Olson says:

    I am in possession of an envelope that was actually carried on the first flight around the world over both poles and is stamped( not carried on officially authorized mail flight.) It has never been opened and is stamped Nov.14, 1965 ,Palm Springs,Ca.on the front and Honolulu, Hawaii on the back.This envelope has never been opened and comes with a letter signed by Willard R. Rockwell. Dated Nov. 15, 1971. My questions, can you tell me if this is valuable. I just discovered this in my husbands possessions .
    Thanking you in advance for any help you might be able to give me on this.

    • mmarcusse says:

      Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, the American Heritage Center and its employees are not able to appraise the historic value of items. I would suggest using the Appraisers Association of America to locate a qualified professional that could appraise the value of this envelope for you. Their Find an Appraiser page can be found here: That’s an interesting item to find!

    • David Thornton says:

      Hello Joyce. I was wondering what was inside the letter. I’m related to Willard, may be my great grandmother’s brother. Wish I had his brain. Thanks David Thornton

    • Genia Olson says:

      My Dad, Eugene Olson was the flight engineer for this historic flight. He would go on to become a 747 captain with Flying Tigers as well as an FAA Check Pilot. My mom saved an unopened envelope for each of us kids along with an opened one. I can’t remember what was in it. I’ll have to retrieve it from storage.

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