I've been prevailed upon to post photos of the trip that I've just had to Antarctica, on the icebreaker L'Astrolabe supporting the French at Dumont D'Urville. Lots and lots of photos (it was my first trip ), not all directly aviation related; but I hope they're interesting nonetheless. I know that many Rotorheads have done this sort of flying many times, and are far more knowledgeable about the area, so just enjoy the views as much as I did
I only took 900+ photos as the camera broke and would only take one photo, then it had to be turned off, then turned on, then take another shot. I missed a lot of good pics, but there are enough to keep the memories
The mess was tiny (like the rest of the ship) and if you didn't like meat and potatoes, you could have potatoes and meat. Nice guys, the Ukranians, but
Once into the pack ice, it was time to find a decent size chunk of ice to park on:
So that we could juggle the helicopters out of "Le Garage"
On the way through the ice, the penguins started appearing. They're on their way to the nesting grounds, and are so funny to watch:
Once the blades were on, we were scheduled to start ferrying passengers to Dumont D'Urville. Which would have been fine, except that my fuel control cable froze, and in trying to free it, the starter switch assembly fractured in the cold We had a very capable engineer who managed to get the switch repaired, so we only lost an hour or two
Then the first flights over the coast and the ice. Stunning, it's just so vast that distances are difficult to judge; each of these icebergs is over 250 metres long
My first Antarctica landing, at Cap Prudhomme
The coastline in the background: the blues on the iceberg were just stunning
Many of the bergs in the ice had seal colonies around them, especially if there was a break into the water for them to get through
The horizon is well over 100km away in this: it's hard to take in at first!
Next to DDU is a glacier, this is over the head of the glacier looking to the north, and the bergs that have calved from it
and over the glacier, looking inland
More bergs stuck in the ice
With 165 degrees of magnetic variation, and so close to the magnetic South Pole, the compass just kept spinning most of the time. I was heading east when I took this
We had a bit of fun trying to keep the internal loads within reason, but we were stuck in the ice 60nm from DDU (Dumont D'Urville) and the turn round times were far more than expected so we had a lot to move over long distances.
Plenty of sling loads, the LTS101 powered B2 manages the loads with ease (and a load cell!), but 60nm at 40 - 60kias can be a PITA The prevailing wind was in our favour outbound, and we generally had a headwind only when returning empty
On an average year, L'Astrolabe gets closer than 20nm to DDU in the November cruise. Often they can get almost alongside the DDU runway, but as with all averages, there are years like this where the ice was too thick to get closer than 50nm. We had a round trip (with loading/unloading) took about 1 hour 20 minutes, so we then ran into flight and duty times limits, but the magic of SatPhones got us an exemption from CASA to meet the demands of extra flying.
L'Astrolabe is a fairly small icebreaker, and having got where she did the ice then closed around us for a long time. Enough to get a bit worried about getting home on schedule, and lots of hot water piped over the side to free us up from the ice.
Lots of freight and goods were flown into Cap Prudhomme, the satellite base from DDU: and yes, that is their own ski slope up the hill
The major factor in breaking up the ice is bad weather, followed by tidal effects. As the tide 'comes in' the ice breaks up a bit, then as the tide goes down, the sections of ice collide and often ride over each other. Well shown in this aerial:
As my hook played up initially the other pilot got to do lots of sling loads, mostly at 40 - 60 knots. I was quite happy to cruise past with internal loads at 120 knots instead
DDU is in the middle of a nesting area. Lots of penguins, and associated smells
Whilst Cap Prudhomme has the neatest quad bike (iPhone photo, not the best)
Lots of seal pups were there: this one (& Mum) had the inevitable gaggle of Adelies nosing around to the right of the photo
I managed lunch at DDU, and a quick nose around to see the rapidly increasing penguin population. Only a week earlier the total number of penguins was zero!
The choice of a good looking pebble to offer your loved one is imperative: their whole world seems to revolve around the pebble 'nest', and raiding another male's offering is grounds for a serious fight
The ice doesn't always look very thick, but the amount below the surface is always significantly more than on the surface
More bergs: you may be able to make out the annual snowfall layers in some shots
This was my "landmark" berg that I could see from 50 nm away, to get back to the ship
Some ice creep off the continent next to Cap Prudhomme
and a bit of a cornice
There are times when the lack of flight instruments isn't a Good Thing
We went to Pt Martin to drop some geologists, rock hoppers in the ice! The French built a base there back around 1950, and only 2 years later it burnt down at the beginning of winter. The Expeditioners had to survive the winter in one remaining survival hut, with what little they salvaged to eat. The wreckage is till there, no attempt seems to have been made to clean it up.
Some of the nearby coastline
Back at DDU, they must be Top Gear fans: one indestructible HiLux
DDU bar and grill. 10 winter months must go very slowly....
Once we finished transferring pax and freight to DDU, the next task was geological and glacial research. We took a group of rock hoppers out to Correl, a rock outcrop near the Mertz Glacier which has been identified as having the same rock as South Australia. Finding somewhere to land was challenging, especially as the constant katabatic wind scours around the rock, with many gusts and eddies
View from the cockpit
While they were drilling for rocks, we nipped off to the Mertz Glacier to look for old GPS stations. They are tracked to map the position of the Mertz, which has a crack developing which will eventually allow 100 years of glacial growth to separate and float off into the ocean. A natural event, it has been monitored for 30 years by the French, and could completely break within years.
The crack is growing from both sides of the glacier, plus offshoots in the bulk of the glacier
While we refuelled, one of the French glaciologists wanted a photo with the penguins and glacier in the background. Who was I to say no?
When we got back to the ship it was slowly grinding to a halt in the ice, but before we shuddered to a stop we had a visit from three Orcas
I'm off to Antarctica Jan 29th via Christchurch and on to McMurdo. No helicopters on this trip though. We always have helicopters in the Arctic, but shipping them down south is not an option these days.
Looking forwards to the hueys at McMurdo and the photo oportunities. Having a lot of experience in the high Arctic, this will be a nice complement.
Sending you all this wonderful - and respected - friend from Sep 15th (81N 0W).
The thought of driving anywhere with Patrice is quite worrying....but you would understand the issue of dealing with loading the aircraft
As with flying to DDU, the distance to the glacier was a problem as we needed to first sling some drums of fuel to use during the day, plus a long trip to the Mertz before we started 'work'. This was a small berg we passed along the way
and the western (ocean) end of the crack
The GPS stations from 2 years ago were all buried, we only found one out of six: it was originally 2.3 metres above the surface
Then the glaciologists got to work on the new units. They were working in -20C, with a wind chill down around -35C, so I was (relatively) happy to be sitting inside the helicopter, which I couldn't shut down because of the frozen Fuel Control cable
and the important scientific research: Tim Tams on glacial snow are definitely better than Mint Slices
As the Mertz mission needed maximum flying time, the ship tried to move closer when it broke out of the ice: with nearly catastrophic results We weren't advised, and the first we knew was when I wandered onto the flight deck before breakfast to find the rotor blades trying to leave the aircraft, despite the blade restraints that we had fitted I was too busy to take pics, but getting frozen salt spray all over you while hanging onto rotor blades in wind chill of -50C is not character building. It's a PITA!
The stuff on the left of this pic is the ice pack, which has been transformed into a giant Slurpee by the winds
(salt) icing, anyone?
So, back into the ice pack and out of the weather induced by the katabatic wind off the Mertz. A few hours of de-icing with fresh water (which re-froze, but at least it was fresh!) and a ground run to check the blades were in balance, and then a few late evening flights to get back on schedule. Removing the salt ice from the tail rotor elastomerics and the main rotor swash plate area was very tedious, but essential
The seismic station was to be set up on rocks occupied by a few thousand Adelies: they really found the mating season far more important than us, especially after climbing that high!
What was scheduled to be our last day on the Mertz, we started by taking the rock hoppers up to Point Pigeon, to construct their seismic station, then picked them up afterwards. Again, nothing in the way of a decent landing spot, and the one that I found was changed to one with a significant slope down to a sheer drop over the cliff
Then we took the geologists across the Mertz to Penguin Point, where we discovered an abandoned camp, which appears to be recently uncovered after maybe 50 years of being buried. AAD are quite interested, the photos show quite a few artefacts which are unlikely to be around once the winds and weather get their way.
Back at L'Astrolabe, waiting for a clear deck:
Near the Mertz, this fall from the edge of the ice has sent shock waves out over the pack ice: and shows how high the cliff face really is
The Mertz crack: due to let go 100 years of ice sometime soon....
Well, the last day's flying was fine for me, but the other pilot wished that he'd stayed on board. There was one French geologist to be taken back to Dumont D'Urville at the end of the day, plus our engineer and '4th hand' went along for the ride and a last meal ashore. As I broke the fuel control on the first day, so did they break their fuel control when they came to leave; only far more seriously than mine, and the engineer left his toolbox on board. I only had to spend the night worrying about the ramifications of how to sort out getting my helicopter and all the gear stowed for the return trip, they had to spend the night outside in < -30C repairing the machine or stay another month until they could be flown out by fixed wing.
They did a sterling job and got back on board at 7am, having checked out Mawson's Hut on the way. It's still covered to the roof with snow and ice, so there's a lot to clear
We then started for home, and searching for icebergs and weather! We needed a bit of shelter from the wind, so that we could remove the rotor blades, eventually 'parking' in the lee of a medium sized 'berg
The helicopters were kept on deck through the pack ice in case a recce flight was needed, but the pack ice was thinning rapidly. The main attraction became a huge iceberg from the Ross Shelf, some 50km x 30km in size
We then had to find a chunk of ice big enough to park into, in order to go through the process of putting the helicopters back into "Le Garage"; a difficult enough process alongside in harbour, but we managed