Thursday, September 17, 2009
NIGHT FLYING INTO ANTARCTICA
I wanted to post this as a "BREAKING NEWS", last month, but many things kept me away from doing it. Finally, I am able to post it.
It’s been nearly 80 years since Adm. Richard Byrd made his famous flight over the South Pole without landing there. Traditionally, the only mode of accessing Antarctica had been by ships that were especially designed and built for navigating the rough and turbulent Antarctic Ocean. However, these can also negotiate the Antarctic Ocean only during Antarctic summer, November to March, when the weather turns less hostile and the ocean which had frozen during the winter starts melting. These are custom-built ships, ice-class or ice-breakers. Kindly see the post: How to reach Antarctica.
History was made in the year when the first aeroplane made its landing on the Antarctic continent by landing on the frozen ice air strip. Since then, air flights have become a regular means of transport carrying Antarctic scientists and logistic experts, equipments, supplies, and tourists. However, these flights had remained limited again during the summer period when various flights operating companies would make 16-20 flights employing cargo aircrafts like Ilyushin or Hercules.
Aviation history was made once again on the night of September 11, 2008 when a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster, a huge military cargo and troop transport, touched down on Pegasus White Ice Runway at McMurdo Antarctic Base of the U.S.A. It was the first time such a landing had been done in Antarctica using night-vision goggles. It was a challenge that has been accomplished, making night landing a reality for the purpose of Science and medical evacuation. Previously that was not possible.
This year, flight since the summer of February, 2009 was scheduled to land at McMurdo Station on Aug. 20 (local time McMurdo) during a roughly weeklong period dubbed Winfly, for winter fly-in. However, two straight days of poor weather conditions at McMurdo delayed the arrival of the first flight. However, ppassengers disembarked from a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Pegasus airfield on Aug. 22, 2009 (McMurdo local time). The first flight of Winfly finally arrived on the continent after two days of weather delays, carrying 120 passengers. Three more passenger flights were planned over the next week.
India started using flights to Antarctica from Cape Town way back in 2002, when it initiated DROMLAN (The Dronning Maud Land Air Network) international cooperative project with other participating countries, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. ALCI, a Cape Town based South African polar shipping and air carrier company has been involved as logistic service provider. It operates approximately 16 flights during Antarctica summer, October to March.
I too flew all the way to Antarctica from Goa in November, 2007 covering the entire distance in approx 18 hours of flying time in 4 flights. The fourth flight was in IL-76 from Cape Town to Novo airbase lasting for 6 hours covering 4500 km, (http://himalayanadventurer.blogspot.com/2007/11/arrival.html)
(First 3 photos from US Antarctic website, the last one by the author)