The Journey Home – the first flight out.

Towards the back-end of February it started to become a little touch and go as to whether the Shack would actually get in to Halley and pick us (summer staff and outgoing winterers) all up. The sea ice in the Weddell sea was really starting to form thicker and thicker and every day it was going to be harder and harder to get through.

So, as two ALCI baslers were due to fly through Halley on their way back to Canada BAS booked as many of us as they could to get on board and fly out to Rothera and my name came up on the list.

To be honest I wasn’t the happiest camper about this turn of events and I was wandering around base with a bit of a scowl on my face for a few days. First of all I’m still not overly enamoured with flying – and going out this way meant a lot of that! Secondly I felt really disappointed to miss out on going out in the traditional manner – on the deck of the Shack, waving goodbye to the 2015 winterers who would be waving us off on the ice shelf – the same way we did the previous year and I was keen to see out the whole experience with my fellow 2014 winter team – or the eight of us that were left with ten-day cruise through the sea ice and a visit to the Falklands.

As it turns out I was a little bit wrong! Wrong to be such a mardy-arse about the whole thing and wrong because I actually got the sweeter deal than those left behind. The twenty or so left at Halley ended up having to come out in a similar way to us, flying to Rothera and then going up to South America. So sorry to all those who had to put up with being grumpy!

First part of the trip involved getting into one of these beauties:

ACLI Basler DC3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACLI Basler DC3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ALCI – or Antarctic Logistics Centre International run a number of planes down here in the summer months carrying goods and people around the continent from on base to another and then they spend the winter back home in Canada.

The two Basler planes are updated versions of the DC-3 which have been flying since 1936! The plane I flew out on saw service during WW2 and was involved in the Normandy landings! They really are cool looking aircraft, when talking about them to people back home I described them as “Indiana Jones” planes.

Despite having the chance to fly a Twin Otter earlier in the season I still had a residual bit of “flying freak out” going on (though this seems to now have gone thanks to the “immersion therapy” of the trip home) In spite of this I was still aware of just how amazingly cool it is to fly in one of these aircraft across the Weddell sea and some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet on my way to Rothera.

So I wouldn’t go as far as saying I enjoyed but it was pretty bloody amazing!

next up: Rothera – otherwise know as the promised land!

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Flying!

A while ago I got the chance to go out into the field in a BAS Twin Otter. This is a pretty rare treat for us at Halley but for me it was a bit odd. I’m not too fond of flying (in fact it freaks me out completely) but there was no way I wanted to pass up the chance to fly across Antarctica!

So, setting aside my nerves I got ready to head out and see my first bit of solid land for over a year. A field party was on the way out to the Shackleton range of mountains about two hours by plane further into the continent. Two Twin Otter aicraft were set up to do a couple of rotations out to the site taking out all the kit for the camp, skidoos and sledges and the kit needed for research. The journey out would be with passengers and then the trip back would need an extra person as a co-pilot – me!

antarctic twin otter pilot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The take off and quick flight up to around eight thousand feet gave fantastic views of the area surrounding base with some of the features I’ve been out to visit such as The Gatekeeper immediately obvious from the air. We flew off to the east and the views down onto the continent were spectacular. Glaciers spilling down to become ice shelf and huge areas of crevassing many kilometres long were all clearly visible. Some of the areas of ice, with long dark rents in the surface looked like an image taken by an electron microscope.

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then, after a few hours flying I spotted land, actual land, away in the distance!

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Shackleton mountains, where the group of scientists we were dropping off were staying in pyramid tents for the next few weeks. They were taking rock samples from the exposed slopes of these mountains. Most of the mountains were buried under two thousand metres of ice,  with another two thousand feet left sticking out above.

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the mountains had peaks and valleys with small glaciers flowing downhill. Also dotted around the landscape were smaller, more isolated Nunataks. Then in some areas of the range were huge plateaus, themselves covered with ice, like a miniature version of the Antarctic plateau itself, rising another few hundred metres above the rock.

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So far so good but now the journey gets cooler. For the trip back I was the co-pilot. This meant I actually got to fly the plane back to Halley!  Mark, the pilot, put me at my ease and was quick to point out that there wasn’t anything I could do that he couldn’t take care of immediately, gave me a quick lesson and handed over the controls. Now, I’m not going to pretend I was doing anything complicated, I was just keeping the aircraft at the right height, right speed, flying in the right direction (most of the time) and was the right way up in the sky but bloody hell – flying  a plane over Antarctica! That’s not something you get to do everyday is it?

On the way back we flew closer to the coast on our approach to Halley so I managed to get a good view of the rumples and the creeks before coming down into Halley and seeing the base and the surrounding area once again.

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

antarctica from the air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So there you go, another anecdote that I’ll be telling over and over when I get back because it’s  bloody awesome – “this one time, I piloted a twin otter across Antarctica….”

 

Winter is Here!

Another momentous moment in the Halley year today. Last week the Shack left us taking nearly all the summer staff back home. The last week has been an unusually busy one in terms of aircraft activity – today the last plane left Halley, which is, incidentally the last thing to leave, or come into Halley until at least November!

So winter is finally upon us and we are now alone at the bottom of the world!

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Woooooooo!

Halley Airport

Places as isolated as Halley have limited access for obvious reasons, in summer the ships can get up close to the ice shelf and aeroplanes can come and go. These planes can be carrying goods or passengers and will be from various different polar organisations and countries. Given the size of Antarctica planes often have to make several stops on the way between different places. BAS has its own international airport in Rothera – because of its gravel runway and location on the peninsula is a hub for air traffic going off to more remote stations and locations and also coming in from South America. BAS also has staging areas with fuel supplies and ice runways in more deep field locations such as Fossil Bluff and Skyblu. At Halley we have our own ski-way runway.

This summer we had a number of planes coming and going from the Halley ski-way. Nothing as busy as Rothera but over the last few days we’ve had quite a number for us, bringing 2 winterers, taking 2 of last year’s out and bringing spares and fresh food.  This has meant a full airport with 3 planes parked up and a temporarily busy base again, after a week of it feeling a bit of a ghost town. Back to sharing rooms for a night or two as the base once again has accents from different parts of the world and a full(er) dining room. Last night I took a trip up to the ski-way to get a shot of the planes parked up – two Twin Otters, one of them BAS and one Kenn Borek Air and also an ACLI Basler aircraft – that’s the one that looks like it belongs in an Indiana Jones film.

The planes that fly down here do so in pretty extreme conditions and the pilots really know how to fly. Watching them come in in bad contrast and poor visibility you can’t tell when the plane stops being in the air and is on the ground. You’ve got to admire the skill of the pilots and the design of the aircraft that have to take-off and land in bad light, freezing conditions and short, snow runways.

So, Planes. Loads of em. Everyone love planes don’t they. Especially ones with skis on em…

Antarctic Aeroplanes

Antarctic Aeroplanes

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plane-17

plane-16

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plane-9

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plane-3

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plane-7

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Oh yeah, and I might very well be flying one of these later this year. Yeah, not flying in it. FLYING IT.

Edited to add: Just been out refueling one of two BAS twin otters that are in tonight and when I’d done I set off on my ski-doo along side the plane as it was taxi-ing. It was a bit like that scene in Top Gun with Maverick on his bike alongside the fighter plane.  Only with more ice. But less Val Kilmer, obviously.