Friday, November 18, 2011

Off to the Polar Plateau...

Another cool flying day yesterday on the fixed wing side of the house.  Plenty of room on board one of our medium lift, DC-3T Basler aircraft so I opted to tag along to mooch a little flight time and help the crew offload about 6,000 pounds of fuel in support of a survey going on up on the polar plateau.
A view of one of our Twin Otters at the fuel pits (Mt Erebus and Ob Hill in the background)
I headed down to the Sea Ice Runway with the crew and had a little time during preflight to walk around the line and see what's happening down there and grab a coffee from the flight line galley.
One of the survey projects on the Basler (note the radar array under-wing and tail boom as well)
We have a variety of aircraft and missions for each type of aircraft.  Some are flying strictly cargo missions, others are configured for unique survey flying where specialized hardware is installed internally and externally under the wings, through ports and even on the empenage or tail section.
Two ski equipped Baslers ready for business
Basler looking out across the ramp at a ANG LC-130 taxiing our of the ramp for takeoff
A Twin Otter inbound for a fuel stop
A closer look at the survey equipped Basler
Today was a fairly routine day of stockpiling fuel in the field at a remote cache a few hundred miles from McMurdo that enables flights to drop in for fuel to save time and the fuel to return to McMurdo or another prepared field.  The drums are loaded up internally each in a  standard 55 gallon drum or about 400 lbs apiece. We flew direct to the center of the map below labeled BYG.
 En route the flying is always gorgeous.  Across the Trans-Antarctic Mountains we went, where as you can see, was a beautiful day, just a bit bumpy as you cross the mountains up onto the Polar Plateau where the cold air spills down through the mountain passes to lower elevations, speeds up, causing what are known as katabatic winds and a nice mountain wave.
A glance at the upper Watson Glacier and Prebble Ice Falls
Prebble Ice Falls
So after the beauty of the mountains, comes the white endless abyss that is the polar plateau.  White as far as you can see, and then some.  We picked our way through the ice field and landed on a nice section of crevasse free ice.  The elevation where we were was about 7,500'--over 4,000' of which is glacial ice.
High atop the polar plateau--not a runway in sight
We offloaded the fuel in the thin air, marked the cache flags so it could be found after being buried and departed in about 15 minutes after landing--the -10 below and 30 mph wind helps motivate you along in your work.

We returned back to Mcmurdo for another load and flew most of the return leg.  Back over the mountains and in we went for a successful round trip.  Flying here is great--better than any office day by far!  

Well back to my Saturday at work now.  Weather has rolled in today and put a damper on flight ops for a bit.  We can't complain though as its been fantastic weather for 2 straight weeks here. A little delay for now, hopefully the whole day isn't a wash.  Take care all! Stay tuned for more.

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