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Victoria University Antarctic Research Expedition Science and Logistics Reports 1994-95: VUWAE 39

6.2. Aircraft Operations

6.2. Aircraft Operations

The event was deployed to the field with VXE-6 Hercules aircraft, one flight each to and from the field. Deployment and pick-up was at depot Lima (see Section 8 for map).

Cargo was delivered to McMurdo almost 5 days before the flight to the field. We did not experience any difficulties getting our cargo through the system at McMurdo and we found that the personnel on this side of things at McMurdo were helpful.

The weights carried on our flights were close to the maximum load possible for a Hercules landing in the field. These weights were:
To the Field: 4220 kg (9300 lbs)
From the Field: 3670 kg (8100 lbs)

The majority of our cargo (food and kitchen boxes, science boxes etc) were strapped to a large pallet. Extra 60L fuel drums were carried on a small pallet Sledges were carried separately in the hold unloaded, though one sledge carried checked personal luggage. We drove me skidoos to me Ice Runway ourselves about 24 hours prior to the scheduled departure time and insisted on loading them onto the aircraft at departure time ourselves. We would recommend to others transporting skidoos on Hercules not to rely on the loading crew to get the vehicles on the plane without damage.

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Given that we had only one flight each way, no special arrangements were made for hazardous cargo (fuel, skidoos etc) other than the usual labelling arrangements and a waiver was arranged by McMurdo Cargo Handling to allow passengers to ride with cargo considered hazardous.

All our cargo arrived with us in the field safe and well.

Pre-planning of flights to the field went quite smoothly. We were given plenty of notice of our delay, and on the rescheduled day of departure, we were away only a few hours late.

Extraction from the field was a little more eventful. Our scheduled removal was December 27th, we were not picked up until the early hours of January 6th. Reasons for this were: the weather (3 days of the waiting period were stormed out); mechanical problems with aircraft; and "higher priority" flights elsewhere. Whilst we understand that there are many factors that control flights in the Antarctic, we felt at times that more could have been done at Scott Base to push the Americans to get a plane to us. We were critically low on food (for reasons discussed in Section 11.3) and our impression from communication with Scott Base was that the Americans were not totally aware of how critical our situation was. A 4 or 5 day storm at the time of extraction would have left us with no food. Regretfully it seemed that more effort was made only after persistent insistence from us.

Landing sites in the field were adequate and locations are shown on the attached map. At field put-in time, 3 ski drags were made by the plane before landing on the fourth pass. The landing felt reasonably smooth and no complaints were heard from the aircrew. The landing site was flat, crevasse free, lacked substantial sastrugi ridges and was covered in 10 to 15 cm of soft snow.

At pull-out time, the drag lines had been covered over by blowing snow and new ridges and sastrugi had formed. The site still appeared suitable for a landing and the plane that picked us up landed on the first approach without any test drags. Loading the aircraft took roughly 1½ hours, including packing the camp. The loading crew were very efficient, patient and helpful. Take-off from the site was noticeably rougher, but still not critically so, though we understand that some damage was done to the nose-ski of the plane during take-off.

We were impressed with the aircrew (and grateful) on this extraction flight as they landed under conditions of very flat light and low cloud ceiling, conditions under which we hadn't expected a landing to be attempted. The ski-way where the drags were initially put was marked with flags separated by 200m over a length of 2000m. These markings may have assisted the aircrew with their decision to land.

The only other aircraft support was the Twin Otter flight in late November to deploy the fuel depots. These depots were deployed as requested and were not drifted in to any great extent.