WASHINGTON - Gus McLeod knows cold better than most anyone.
The amateur aviator from Maryland made history April 17 as the first pilot to fly to the North Pole in an open-cockpit plane.
"I was cold beyond caring," Mr. McLeod, 45, said Wednesday at a news conference at the National Geographic Society, a sponsor of the two-week, 3,500-mile journey.
He even tried an electric suit - and turned it up full blast - to battle temperatures that hovered at 15 degrees below zero for days. The suit left a silver-dollar-sized third-degree burn in his stomach that he did not even feel.
"I didn't get any warmer, and that burning part wasn't good," Mr. McLeod said.
So why did he do it? "A personal challenge," he said. Mr. McLeod said he's a longtime admirer of early aviation pioneers. "I always like to feel I was part of that club."
Even his craft, a 1939 Boeing Stearman biplane, comes from the era of his dreams.
The cockpit was a bit tight for the 6-foot-1, 285-pound aviator. Mr. McLeod said his chest was just six inches from the rim of the cockpit, and that all he could move - sometimes during six hours of flight - were his arms and ankles.
Mr. McLeod was in the plane by himself but not completely alone. A crew from the National Geographic Society followed in a "chase plane" and got the trip on film. It will be televised June 4 as part of the Explorer series.
"He squeezed this massive frame into what looked like a little, toy airplane with his head popping out of the cockpit," show producer Lori Butterfield said. She teased him about not having any blood in his veins; he confirmed that his body circulates antifreeze.
Mr. McLeod left two items dear to him at the Pole. One is an urn bearing the ashes of his friend, Doug Duff, who hoped to make the trip to the Pole for years, right until his death in a plane crash in 1998.
The other is his aircraft, which he hopes to have recovered.
Mr. McLeod said the engine broke for about the fourth and final time during the trip and could not be repaired. It's at 86 degrees north and 93 degrees west, and drifting.
"It's headed for Norway at 12 miles a day," he said. "That plane loves to travel."