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Pilot Plans to Ride His Polar Dare All the Way

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“No footnotes.”

With a look of steely determination, Norman Schwartz recites his motto as he prepares to pilot his twin-engine airplane to the North Pole. He embarks on the journey today.

“I want to complete this,” explained the 61-year-old Calabasas attorney. “I’ve always had this wanderlust, this desire to do things that no one has ever done before--or at least things that few have done before. But so many of my accomplishments have had footnotes.”

Schwartz climbed 18,000 feet up Mt. Everest in 1991 before he was stricken with altitude sickness and forced to quit. He ran 23 miles of the 1987 Los Angeles Marathon, but crossed the finish line in a relief bus. He attempted the North Pole flight in 1995, but was halfway there when he was forced to turn back because of bad weather.

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This time, with a caravan of 10 pilots, tens of thousands of dollars of navigation equipment and fuel already stockpiled at several remote Arctic airstrips, the veteran long-distance pilot said he is more determined than ever to reach the top of the world.

The North Pole flight is the last of three great goals Schwartz set for himself when he started flying more than 20 years ago. In 1992, he flew around the world in the same Cessna 340 he plans to take to the North Pole. In 1987, he re-created Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic in a single-engine plane.

Schwartz decided several weeks ago to join a group of pilots setting off from Winnipeg, Canada, on Tuesday for the 2,000-mile journey to Eureka, Canada, where there is an airstrip 400 miles south of the geographical North Pole.

Schwartz and his co-pilot will start and end the expedition at Santa Monica Municipal Airport, leaving for Winnipeg today. The total round-trip distance will be 6,400 miles.

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It won’t be his longest or most difficult flight, but Schwartz said navigation will be a unique challenge. There are actually two North Poles--the magnetic North Pole is south of the geographical North Pole. Schwartz will pass the magnetic North Pole, rendering his compass useless for the last 200 miles of his trip, he said.

Advanced military technology “really came to the rescue for us,” Schwartz said, describing the Defense Department satellites that will allow him to use the Global Positioning System to navigate. Schwartz has equipped his plane with $14,000 worth of specialized navigation devices for the GPS.

Then there’s another $20,000 for fuel, supplies, food and emergency polar survival gear. The kit Schwartz will carry is designed to keep two people alive in Arctic conditions for 10 days. With outside temperatures of 40 to 50 degrees below zero, the chill inside the pressurized cabin will be a constant reminder of the added risks of Arctic flying.

“I don’t have a lot of fear,” Schwartz said, explaining that he flies two or three times a week and trains in state-of-the-art flight simulators that can re-create emergency situations. “I am realistically confident.”

His wife, June, worries about him, but has never told him not to fly.

“She understands my needs,” Schwartz said, as his eyes crinkled up in a grin. “She has this deal with me. Whatever I spend on a trip, she gets to spend half of that at Nordstrom.”

Although he has flown all over the world, Schwartz said the Arctic retains a special allure.

“It’s barren beauty. There’s no green. Just the most snow-covered tundra and mountains rising 6,000 feet from the ice pack,” he said. “The serenity--it is absolutely quiet and still. You don’t see footprints anywhere. I like to think maybe I can take a step where no one has stepped before.”

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For Schwartz’s seven grandchildren, who are between 2 weeks and 8 years old, the North Pole is special for a different reason.

“I told them I was going to visit Santa Claus,” he said. “They expect souvenirs.”


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