With many activities that I partake in, there is a certain challenge in describing my motivations. For me the answer can always be summed up by “Why not?” Many people require more of something to wrap their head around such logic. Coming to Antarctica, however, I feel like few people asked that question. Maybe I have finally broken through the need for explanation on why I choose the things I do? I actually think it is something different. I have seen it in people’s faces at McMurdo too. We are in Antarctica. This is truly one of the last places on the planet that cannot be freely traveled by anyone with the ambition. And even those who do make it down, I suspect most are restricted by how that access was gained. Though there are those rare expeditions and Vinson Massif summit teams, few people get to really experience the sights of Antarctica. One group of people may have found a way. They are the flight teams from Kenn Borek Air, the U.S. Air Force, and the Royal New Zealand Air Force. And I owe a lot of gratitude to many of these people for my safe transport around the continent. Thank you!
To give a brief glimpse into my flight experiences, and maybe spread a thought of support for these incredible people, I want to tell my flight experiences and show the different aircraft I was privileged to be a passenger in while in Antarctica.
My flight from Christchurch to McMurdo was on a Boeing 757-200 flown by the Royal New Zealand Air Force No. 40 Squadron. Maybe it is becoming more common for these large commercial aircraft to land on the continent, but I felt like I was experiencing a rare opportunity. It was a luxury flight compared to standard flights to Antarctica. We had cushioned seats, windows, the quiet interior of a commercial plane, and they packed us a sack lunch. It was fantastic!
My flight into the Miller Range was on a Basler BT-67 (Turbine DC-3) aircraft. There were three crew members. They have a payload limit of 8,500 pounds (including fuel weight), so are the primary cargo hauler for field teams and fuel drops. It was a beautiful day and the crew were all incredibly nice. Kenn Borek Air is based out of Canada, so the pilots are all Canadian bush pilots. My personal experience is that they are all wonderful and interesting people.
Shuttles from Miller Range to Shackleton Camp, Shackleton Camp to Gabbro Hills, and Gabbro Hills to Shackleton Camp where all through the efforts of the crews flying Twin Otters (DHC6). These are smaller planes (3,500 lb payload) on skis. They are the nimble flyers for Antarctic missions. They provide a lot of support for science teams because they have the ability to land and takeoff on a wide range of unprepared landing surfaces on sea ice and glaciers and seawater.
Returning from Shackleton to McMurdo, we flew with our cargo on an LC-130, a ski-equipped version of the U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules operated by the New York Air National Guard (recent article here). This is a monster of a plane. It was designed for combat transport and has a hinged loading ramp at the rear of the fuselage to dump out cargo by the pallet load.