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.



Mission Accomplished! (by Jack)

January 18, 2017

We are back in Punta Arenas, Chile (SCCI) after an absolutely once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Many thanks for all the messages and support...all four of us (Josh, Giuseppe, Jerry, and yours truly) appreciate it.

It may be a few days before I can get a full blog entry done, but the short version is the flight went very well.  Weather was about as good as it gets in this part of the world. For about 600 NM along the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula (the most interesting part) we had completely clear skies and views of a landscape that deifies description.  Beautiful in such a surreal way.

Just north of our 75S turn-point over the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) outpost called Sky Blu, we started a running two hour conversation with a BAS Dash-7 crew flying along our route. They had heard all about our flight and were very talkative as they almost never hear another aircraft. What a great job they have.

No major problems...a cranky HF radio (reverted to sat phone for position reports) and a bent left main landing gear wheel cover (just removed it) were about the extent of the unexpected. Otherwise, everything went as planned except much better weather than we could have hoped for over such a long flight (almost 2,400 NM on the 17th).

I'll have an a lot more details in the coming days (more than anyone probably cares to read!), but the bottom line is this was an incredible experience. It could not have happened without Josh, Giuseppe, and Jerry (and a bunch of other people on the ground) for which I am very thankful.

We are celebrating tonight and then flying to San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina (SAZS) tomorrow to rendezvous with Carolyn and Becky (who went on their own adventure while we waited for good weather down south).  After a couple of days of R&R there, we will work our way home via Santiago, Chile; Lima, Peru; and Liberia, Costa Rica.

Thanks again for the support and interest in this quixotic aviation adventure.

January 18: Ushuaia to Bariloche (by Carolyn)

Ushuaia to Bariloche:
Patagonia is really big
January 18

We woke to discover light snow dusting the distant mountains south across the Beagle Channel. This range of peaks looks so much like the Cathedral Group in Grand Teton National Park it's uncanny.


This morning we headed up the disused ski slope on the northern side of Ushuaia to look for a few more birds. ("Our target birds today are the yellow bridled finch, buff-winged cinclodes, orchard-necked ground-tyrant, dark-faced ground-tyrant and common seedsnipe.") The hike was steep and dramatic, looking back down across the city and channel, and uphill above the tree line and tundra to trails that disappeared into the granite mountain top. Clouds closed in and a light snow fell for the rest of our exploring.



Ushuaia has experienced several dry winters (Argentina believes in climate change) and now the in-town ski mountain has been shut down and the lift dismantled. There were several batches of hikers, and many proceeded far above where even moss and lichens dare to grow.




Snow flurries continued and we got all our birds except the seedsnipe. (No surprise since it is exceedingly difficult to find.) We headed back through stunted southern-beech forest to grab a quick lunch before saying goodbye and thanks to Esteban when he dropped us off at the airport.



lentil stew!


Because the guys are completing their Antarctic adventure, Becky and I are flying commercially to Bariloche. We leave southern Patagonia for northern Patagonia, maybe 1000 miles as the crow flies, but they don't have crows in Argentina and they don't have paved roads in remote areas, but they do have lots of mountains. It would be a long drive.

The Andes were out the left side, stark and bare, with snow covered volcano cones jutting even higher and catching clouds. We saw glaciers draining into milky turquoise lakes that flowed west to east through dry grasslands.

Bariloche is a resort town nestled on the southern edge of Lago Nahuel Huapi. (Think Truckee on Lake Tahoe). It is densely landscaped with plants from around the world - some quite benign, and others (Spanish broom, ponderosa pine), not so much. But if you are a rose lover, this could be your capital. Just be sure and plant sterile cultivars. Our hotel is Charming. Literally, it is called Charming, and it's great to be here for several days.