Weather slowing North Pole explorer; Snow in Ontario stalls open-cockpit pilot


Gustavus A. McLeod, a Montgomery County businessman, sat out a snowstorm yesterday after flying into 50-mph head winds Wednesday as he attempted to be the first pilot to fly an open cockpit biplane to the geographic North Pole.

McLeod, 45, took off from Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg at 8: 56 a.m. Wednesday, carrying the ashes of a former flying buddy, Doug Loring Duff, in his 1939 Boeing Stearman. Duff, who died when his traffic plane crashed in fog near Bowie in November 1998, had promised to fly the support plane when McLeod made his polar flight.

McLeod made Hamilton, Ontario, his first scheduled refueling stop, at 1: 20 p.m. Wednesday, then went on to Elliot Lake, on the north shore of Lake Huron, where he spent the night.

Yesterday, he awoke to find 4 inches of snow and slush covering his converted crop duster and decided to lay over for the day and wait for better weather. The folks in Elliot Lake were throwing a barbecue in McLeod's honor, said his publicist, Steve Rosenberg.

The pilot said he plans to make it to Pickle Lake, and maybe Church Hill, villages in the northern reaches of Ontario's Sunset Country, a few hundred miles south of Hudson Bay.

McLeod is accompanied by three enclosed planes, two of them from the National Geographic Society, which is documenting the trip, and a chase plane.

The stiff head winds Wednesday, combined with three snow squalls over the mountains of western Pennsylvania, slowed McLeod's plane to about 35 mph at times and forced two of the support planes to stop to refuel, said Rosenberg.

"Gus called me when he got to Hamilton. He said the trip was brutal," said Rosenberg.

McLeod, a pilot since he was a teen-ager, almost died last year when the engine on his blue and yellow plane conked out over Hudson Bay on a flight to the magnetic North Pole, toward which compass arrows point. The engine restarted.

For this 3,500-mile trip to the spot where the earth's longitude lines come together, McLeod has designed cowling and insulation to keep the engine warm and will wear a suit designed to keep him warm at temperatures as low as 65 degrees below zero. He says he expects temperatures to go as low as 35 below.

McLeod plans to skirt the western edge of Hudson Bay on his way to the pole, stopping at about 10 remote villages with names such as Rankin Inlet, Taloyuak and Resolute for fuel and supplies. He says he will leave a container of Duff's ashes at the Pole.

McLeod is making the trip now, despite the bitter cold, because he will land on ice at the pole and other stops. If he waits until it's warmer, the ice will be cracking, Rosenberg said.

"And you wouldn't want to land on cracking ice," he said.

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