Dan's Antarctic Dairy - Week Three

Monday 17 Jan
Busy day today. Knocked out the weather forecasts during the first part of the morning. Flying operations here comprise of a number of things. First of all there are flights (on average once every 7-10 days) to and from the Falklands to pick up supplies and transfer personnel. Then there are various flights around the Antarctic Peninsula to pick up/set down/supply scientists working in the field and there is also a lot of aerial photography which needs to be done. Because of the size of the aircraft and the distances involved there are a couple of sites around the Antarctic Peninsula which are used as manned fuel dumps so that these planes can refuel on their travels. These fuel dumps also need to be kept topped up, and this is another one of the pilots' tasks. For safety reasons pilots cannot take a plane out on their own - there has to be someone with them, and so when a 'fuel run' is made the Ops Manager will select someone to 'co-pilot'. Quite predictably there isn't a shortage of volunteers. Let's face it, these runs are made in good weather conditions which means whoever's in the plane will get a nice view and make some nice photos so who wouldn't be up for it?? Now, because of my job here I can't really leave Rothera for any length of time, but on the other hand as I have to make forecasts for these two manned fuel dumps it is considered beneficial if I've been there and can envisage what they look like etc.

So as the weather was quite quiet I was asked to fly down to a place called Fossil Bluff (so called because it's a place where fossils have been found and it's at the foot of a bluff!!) which is one of these manned fuel dumps. It's about 90 minutes flight from Rothera and it was quite a pleasant jaunt. Weather conditions were pretty good, apart from some low cloud near Fossil Bluff (71S 68W) with superb visibilty so I got some nice views of mountains, sea ice and ice sheet. To get there we flew over sea then sea ice, and then reached King George VI Sound, which is a permanent ice sheet separating the mountainous Antarctic Peninsula from the pretty mountainous Alexander Island. You'd perhaps expect the ice sheet to be all even and white, but there were in fact quite a few crevasse fields, and most striking of all there were a lot of bright blue pools of meltwater. This is quite common at this time of year and this meltwater helps create a lot of fog and low cloud which is tricky to forecast and dangerous for pilots and therefore something of a bane in my life. Still, it all looked very pretty....nice blue meltwater pools and channels, grey, steep-sided mountains and ice/snow cover.

En route. much to my shock and horror the pilot asked me to take control of the plane for a while. People pay good money for flying lessons so I shouldn't complain, but I'm not a great flyer and I found it rather alarming. Basically all I had to do was keep the plane straight and flying in the right direction. To do this I used some kind of steering wheel thing - push forwards to go down, pull back to go up, turn left to bank to the left, turn right to bank right and look at instruments to check altutide and course. Simple stuff you'd think...I mean all the difficult stuff is landing and taking off!!! Well, the plane's controls are quite sensitive so it was surprising how much I could make the plane move with even the slightest of twitches of my hand. So before nerves could cause me to put the plane into a spin or something I handed control back.

Fossil Bluff was quite pleasant. We landed, dropped the fuel off and then went to a hut there for a cup of tea. The hut's about a mile away from the skiway (the plane lands on snow) so after one very bumpy skidoo ride we were sat outside a nice hut with the chaps who work there (a few people from Rothera take it in turns to work at Fossil Bluff for a few days at a time). The hut is like stepping back into time and done out in the way Antarctic huts were in the 1960's and 70's before flash technology like computers and the internet came along and changed everything.

Anyway, after an hour or so here we flew off back to Rothera. I say we because I had to fly a bit again. I succeded in making the plane 'porpoise' which means everytime I tried to get the plane to a given altitude it came back up again of it's own accord. And this is caused by me straightening the plane out too quickly - as you fly downwards the plane accelerates which generates lift so if you straighten out quickly the plane rises again. Didn't really get the hang of handling the stick. I fly about as well as I drive. Oh no, hang on I didn't prang the plane whereas I've written off one car and had 2 other minor scrapes. Maybe I do fly better after all!!!!!!

As we landed we disturbed some skuas on the runway - some animals in the Antarctic have no natural predators on land so are not scared of humans. Birds and seals on the runway are a real problem because they're hard to scare off if a plane is landing (ie you can't have people on the runway when a plane is landing). Unfortunately there was a birdstrike, which can damage planes. Luckily the plane was not damaged (unlike the bird) and that was that. Quite a busy day!!

Approaching Fossil Bluffs - bluffs, meltwater, ice and low cloudI flew one of these!!!!!

Tuesday 18 Jan
Felt pretty tired all day today, but luckily it was a quiet day. The weather was reasonably straight forward to forecast and operations were both less complicated and less weather dependent than they could have been so I took it easy. Worked all morning, played darts and tinkered with my web sites in the afternoon. I'm really good at not quite hitting double one now. Once a week there's a football league (5-a-side on the runway). I missed a sitter last week...made up for it this week by scoring. Shame we it was late on and we were already effectively beaten!

Wednesday 19 Jan, Thursday 20 Jan and Friday 21 Jan
All these days really busy with work; there were flights to and from the Falklands and a lot of flights in Antarctica to places where the weather was marginal and where it was difficult to forecast for due to lack of observations, poor model data and difficulty accertaining how low low cloud was. Tricky, long days! Still, I suppose that's what I'm here for! A chap on base here organizes circuit training on the runway once or twice a week. Went along on Thursday evening. Went out of breath during the warm up (never a good sign) and never caught up after that!

Saturday 22 Jan
Ached this morning. Must have been the weather forecasting. Couldn't possibly be anything to do with circuit training. Fairly quiet day today really....sorted out the forecasts fairly quickly, largely because weather was either good or bad, nothing in-between to make for some difficult decisions and subsequent weather monitoring. Listened to the football on the internet during the early afternoon....heard Boro throw it away against Norwich. What team lets in 3 goals in the last 10 minutes!

We had visitors today. The American research vessel 'Lawrence Gould' visited for the weekend. This vessel takes American students and research assistants to Antarctic waters for 1-5 months. The ship is 'dry' so they make a brief stop at Rothera to give everyone on board the chance to let their hair down and have a few shandys. The evening entertainment was provided by some people here who'd formed a band and turned out to be pretty good. Funnelled down my regulation Saturday night bottle of wine (alcohol allowance is 2 bottles/cans per night except on Saturday when it's one bottle wine and unlimited bottles/cans within reason) followed by some lagers. Chatted to a few people and felt suitably squiffy come one in the morning when I also noticed that the sky had turned orange! There's been 24 hour daylight so far here, but it looks like the sun is getting close to setting!

Dan Suri, 24 January 2005. Click here to go to my home page and click  to email me.