Antarctica

Week 11 January 9 2005 "Russian Biplane"

The season is moving into the closing stages. It is getting colder again outside and I have to think about warmer clothes when walking around for any period of time. Everyone is showing signs of being tired and stressed with lots of work to be done before station close.

The weather in McMurdo really went to pieces and people heading north have been stuck in MCM and many heading south are in CHC. It reached the point of having a major impact on the program. There are beakers (scientists) who have spent the entire time of their trip in CHC. Now to let them come down requires some very creative work on the population at Pole. By mid this month the Pole will be at maximum capacity of 245 people. This is adding to the stress levels as there is pressure on short timers to leave, and pressure on some people to not come at all. Imagine spending a year thinking you are coming to the South Pole and be canceled in CHC.

When I wrote about the iceberg I mentioned a deal done. A couple of years back a Russian biplane flew into the South Pole. It was a mix of private and government people. Not quite an official trip, and certainly had the feel of a tourist trip. It arrived the day after I left that year. I was a little disappointed not to see it. Well I did because the plane broke down and has been sitting out on the berms since. It became a landmark at Pole. Though the Russian owners wanted it back.

The NSF offered to take the wings off and put it on a LC-130, then the ship it out of here. The Russians for what ever reason, pride, chance to get to Pole again, wanted to come and fix it. With the level of activity at Pole it seemed unlikely this would happen. But then the iceberg meant there was a lot of ice to be broken to MCM, and there happens to be a lot of Russian icebreakers out there. The deal done was a Russian icebreaker would come help out at MCM (presumably at a discount price) and a heap of Russians would be flown in to fix their biplane.

The plane is an Antonov-3. It is a single engined biplane which is apparently considered a very reliable aircraft. It certainly is nice looking. Soon after Christmas quite a troop of Russian mechanics and technicians arrived to work n it. They worked very hard and soon replaced the engine and completely overhauled the entire aircraft. Very wise considering it has been sitting on berm here for 2 years. There were inspectors flown in, films crews, and other nebulous senior supervisor types.

I was expecting something different from the Russians. I expected to be up in the bar filled with smoke from strong smelling cigarettes doing shots of vodka. I guess they were warned to be on good behaviour, and they were. Most did not speak English and my conversations didn't go much beyond g'day without vodka to break the ice:) They were very polite, and neat, and caused little impact which was very much appreciated by the people that run the station. I'm sure the galley noticed the extra food they had to cook. They did have a lot of fun at the New Years Eve party. I hear the band got lots of requests in very broken English for slow songs. But it could have been a lot more fun for all of us if only....

The bad weather in MCM was also delaying the Antonov leaving. They did a very successful test flight last week. They flew for almost an hour which included some fun looking steep banks. But then they were just waiting and anxious to leave. Today (Jan 11) while the weather was not perfect, flights started again and they finally left just after lunch. There was just an announcement that they arrived safely in MCM, 7 hours later. In MCM the wings will be taken off and the plane loaded on to an large Russian cargo jet, an Iluyshin-76, for it's trip off the ice.

How is work going? I think I mentioned we have been delayed slightly because we have to wait for the close of a comment period on an environmental permit which was lodged late. We were ahead of schedule, but have had a few minor problems so that things need to start happening perfectly. Before water can be pumped through the 2 mile long main hose it has to be heated up. The plan was to run hot air through it. This has worked well for shorter hoses, but is not going well for this huge hose. The main hose spool is now covered in a big trap and hot air blown on it from a herman nelson heater. If all goes very well this will work and drilling will start tomorrow, and deployment of modules on Saturday - on schedule.

I've had many requests for a description of the project. I will try and put out a special edition later this week explaining the project and how it is being installed. Not the most exciting topic to write about for me, but I hope it won't be as boring for everyone else.

Sunday 9th of January was the 30th anniversary of the dedication of the Dome. It went by unnoticed by most, but for Dome lovers like me it was an historic day. There aren't many days left in the Dome. I'll be the second last person to live in my room, and maybe the last person to use my office. The Dome has a lot of character, especially compared to the New Station. It's a shame the plan is to demolish it. Ed made a good point of comparing it to one of the historic huts. Imagine demo-ing the Discovery Hut to make a larger wharf at MCM. Unthinkable. In 50 years from now people will wonder what the NSF was thinking when they demolished the Dome for economics.

To be continued....

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