Oscar Omdal (1895-1927)
Oscar Omdal was born in Kristiansand. His parents were master cobbler John O. Omdal (b. 1866) and his wife Marta (b. 1866). Oscar died young, but was one of Norway’s air pioneers.
Omdal was accepted at the navy’s newly-established aircraft engineer school in summer 1916 after having studied for a year at Porsgrunn technical school and having relatively long practical experience. He continued his training in the Naval Air Force in 1919. After a short while at Christian Hellesen’s Norsk Aeroplanfabrik in Tønsberg, he became in spring 1920 the first employee of Tancred Ibsen’s flying company A/S Aero. On 19 June 1920 Tancred Ibsen’s company opened the first Norwegian charter route between Kristiania (Oslo) and Kristiansand as a job for the newspaper Nationen during a large meeting they were covering. That same summer Omdal was loaned out to the air company Norsk Luftfartsrederi and on 16 August 1920 he flew the first passenger route from Stavanger via Haugesund to Bergen by seaplane. The route was closed in October the same year, when the economic crisis started. In 1922 Omdal became an enlisted second lieutenant.
In 1921 Omdal was engaged as one of the two pilots in connection with the planned North Pole flights on Roald Amundsen’s Maud expedition in Alaska. When Amundsen in spring 1922 bought a Junkers F13 plane in New York, Omdal was to fly it to Seattle to be loaded on to the Maud. Motor stop forced him to land the plane in Nebraska, and it was badly damaged. A new plane was taken by train to Seattle, and in June the expedition went north. After a test flight on a beach by the Bering Strait, Omdal wintered alone in the cabin Maudheim he and Amundsen had built by Wainwright in Alaska. In spring 1923 the new plane was put together under primitive conditions, and when Omdal took a new test flight on 11 May he crashed. Amundsen had to give up the plan of flying over the Arctic Ocean to Svalbard. He reported to his brother Leon that “Omdal is in many ways a clumsy thing – and very unreliable”! (Source: SNL)
Omdal celebrated Christmas 1923 with Amundsen and new plans were laid for a flying expedition to the North Pole. With American Lincoln Ellsworth as sponsor, Amundsen’s new planes were built in Italy, where Omdal followed the building closely. In spring 1925 two Dornier Wal flying boats were ready: N24 and N25. These were taken by train to Narvik and then by boat to Svalbard. Omdal was the mechanic on the N24, with Leif Dietrichson as pilot and Ellsworth as navigator. The planes landed at 87°44' N and N24 could not be flown again. After 25 days hard work at making a runway in the ice, they managed to get all six men into N25 and fly back to Svalbard. Omdal made important films during the strenuous expedition where N24 was damaged and had to be left. He almost died when he fell through the ice on the way from N24 to N25. Amundsen wrote later about Omdal that “if he is not present, he is always missed”. On 4 July 1925 the expedition members were given an overwhelming hero’s welcome in Kristiania. For Omdal the fame gave him a permanent lieutenant’s job in the Naval Air Force.
Omdal participated as general assistant and one of the three machinists on the Amundsen-Ellsworth-Nobile Transpolar Flight with the Italian-built airship Norge. The airship flew from Svalbard over the North Pole to Alaska in spring 1926. In summer 1927 Omdal was recruited by Bernt Balchen, as the reserve pilot on Byrd’s South Pole expedition in spring 1928. While waiting for this expedition Omdal, amongst other jobs, was engaged as pilot for the property investor Frances Wilson Grayson, who wanted to fly over the Atlantic in a Sikorsky flying boat. Despite a bad weather forecast, Omdal, with Grayson and Brice Goldsborough took off 23 December 1927 from Curtis Field by New York, heading for Copenhagen. They reported heavy icing off Boston and, after having set a course out over the Atlantic, the plane disappeared without trace.
Oscar Omdals gate (street) in Stavanger and Oscar Omdals terrasse in Hamresanden, Kristiansand, are named after him.