Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Flying from Antarctica back to South America (by Jack)

January 18, 2017

[I am way behind on the description of the flights after Antarctica, but am back home in Austin now and will get caught up over the next few days. The short version of the story is everything went very well...almost exactly on schedule and with no major surprises.]

After settling down in our temporary Antarctic home, I fell asleep quickly. It had been a long day on the 17th and while I was not doing much physical, I was "on alert" the whole day as the environment was very different than my normal flying. Even with three other excellent pilots in the the plane, being the "senior captain" involved some additional responsibility and thus mental effort.  But, it has all gone well so the effort paid off.

Our humble home for the night...


Spartan food...


One of the two bunk-bed rooms...


As far as I can tell, there is no way to obtain title to land in Antarctica. So buildings like this one are in a sort of ownership limbo. There also is no real criminal law, customs, or immigration in Antarctica. It truly is a very wild place in many respects.

Our accommodations did have a nice view overlooking the airport and was near the tiny Russian Orthodox church on the island. A photo from the airport...


Co-captain Seckler was up earlier than me and provided this short video tour of our overnight home...

https://youtu.be/Pg0EzwAzFis


King George Island is a fairly busy little place with one of the largest year-round populations in Antarctica. Several countries have stations on the island as it has relatively mild weather (about the same latitude south as Oslo, Norway is north) and is short flight to South America.  I count at least nine different countries represented on King George on the map below...



Some various photos around King George and the Marsh airport (thanks to others in our group...I slept in this morning!).

A small church...


Maxwell Bay...


Typical Antarctic research station buildings...


A small Russian Orthodox church with signs pointing to various cities in Russia...


Entrance to the Russian base...


The icon of the continent...


Airline luggage cart, Antarctic style...


Odd to see satellite dishes pointed almost directly at the horizon, but that is where the geo-synchronized satellites are located in the sky...


The Chilean Air Force hanger...


While we did not need maintenance while at Marsh, we were hoping that the Chilean Air Force folks would have pity on us if that became required.

Chilean Air Force Twin Otter (DHC-6)...probably the most common aircraft type in Antarctica...


This is how all fuel arrives in Antarctica as far as I can tell...several thousand dollars a barrel...




Passengers unloading from one of the tourist flights to Marsh...note that they step into a pan of disinfectant to reduce this risk of introducing invasive plants to the continent...


Supply and cruise ships in Maxwell Bay...


No piers on King George Island that I saw, so all supplies are transferred from the larger ships to the beach in small boats or barges...


Villa Las Estrellas is probably the closet thing to a regular "town" in Antarctica. It even has a school, post office, bank, and a doctor. They claim to have a year-round population of around 60 people.


The Villa Las Estrellas post office (not our photo)...


We had planned to depart King George at a rather leisurely 1130 local time for the less than three hour flight back to Punta Arenas. However, around 0930 we were informed a C130 Hercules (a large cargo plane) was scheduled to arrive at 1130 and they would close down the runway for several hours. Evidently the plane is large enough that they cannot park it easily off the runway. So, we had a quick breakfast of leftovers and headed to the airport (just a short drive away).

Our bird was ready to go...



As expected, the temperature was well above freezing thus no issues with removing frost from the wing (as we had the prior day).

Upon arrival at the airport, we received another unique flight plan...

https://youtu.be/o6PqZdRq5e4


Once again, Marsh tower was aware that our HF radio was not working, but said it was fine to use the same phone number as the previous day to contact Punta Arenas Center on sat phone once out of range of Marsh on VHF. 

We saw a BAe 146 depart (this was actually the evening prior, but I forgot to put it in that post)...pretty impressive take-off...

https://youtu.be/PZKJvgpw8x0


We completed a thorough pre-flight and loaded-up for departure. This time we departed runway 29 with Josh in the right seat and Giuseppe filming...

https://youtu.be/ocvw7dxwGCw


The flight back to Punta was uneventful and in clear air...


A pano of the cabin and cockpit taken by Jose from the rearmost seat...


The route back to Punta was the simple reverse of the route from Punta to Marsh the prior day...


As we approached Punta the winds at the airport were reported to be strong as is normal. Weather was good VFR.  They were using runway 25, but runway 30 was almost exactly aligned with the winds so we requested a visual approach to runway 30. Turns out due to construction on runway 30 it was shortened to 2,200 FT, but that is not a problem for the PC12, especially with a strong headwind.

After landing we discovered the left main gear wheel cover had come loose and was badly bent. Not a big deal as after consultation with my service center they said it was fine just to remove it and replace it whenever it was convenient. Might cost a knot or two of airspeed, but otherwise no impact.


However, I felt bad about the damaged wheel cover because, while I could blame it on the four cycles on the bumpy gravel runway at Marsh, the fact is if I had more carefully checked that the screws were tight with each preflight, I probably would have caught the issue early enough to avoid the problem. Lesson learned for next time.

We were greeted warmly by our very nice and efficient handler in Punta and after re-fueling and parking the plane, were on our way to the hotel. We celebrated that night and slept very well.


After a good night's sleep Josh, Jack, and Giuseppe will depart tomorrow for Bariloche, Argentina to be reunited with Becky and Carolyn. Jerry will stay an extra day in Punta and fly commercially to Santiago where we will meet up with him again.

While the most challenging part of the trip is done, we still have about 7,000 NM to fly to "close the loop". To qualify for the circumnavigation certificate, we need to land this bird in Jackson Hole where the trip started last August. Not a time to get complacent.