Lady luck made my day on Monday as my name was drawn from the hat (with names of people who haven’t flown and aren’t scheduled to fly this season. i.e. 4 of us) to go on a short reconnaissance flight around the Brunt. We took the twin otter VP-FBL (Bravo Lima for short) on a 1.5 h spin to look at some features north of the station and trail skies at several proposed new blind landing sites and the new skiway at site 6A. Three super excited winterers plus management piled into the twin otter and listened to the pilot’s briefing (mainly not to walk into the rotors while the engine is on and not to pile in all at once as it will tip the plane onto its tail). We sat in the back seats for take-off and landing, but otherwise could roam around in the back. Once airborne we unbuckled and were glued to the windows with our cameras. There is a large feature to the north called the McDonald Ice Rumples where the ice shelf catches on an underwater protrusion causing it to bunch up and crack. Sadly there was quite a bit of low cloud over this area, but we could still peek down into a few crevasses.
Next we flew to the old Halley V site and trailed skies at two sites proposed to be used as emergency blind landing sites. When the visibility is very low the pilot descends at a very shallow angle to land, which requires a large area (5 miles) without obstacles and known to be safe. Trailing skies is a method used to test the ground below an unknown landing site and is often used for field landings. The pilot descends and touches the skies of the plane onto the snow while the wings still take most of the weight before accelerating again and flying off. The trails can be inspected for any potential crevasses or broken snow bridges and if safe the pilot will land in the exact same trails. The Halley V site is fairly near the coast now so when turning the plane we could glimpse the ocean which had been blown free of ice (we had a recent gale) with just a faint glimmer of grease ice starting to reform on the surface.
Lastly we did the same trailing skies twice at the new Halley 6A site to test the two proposed ski way areas. There are lots of features and icebergs frozen into this part of the Brunt making the whole site quite interesting, but this also limits which areas can be considered safe. Last summer the whole area was thoroughly inspected using ground penetrating radar to pick up cracks that are not visible at the surface so the perimeter and areas marked with flags are safe.
We tried to revisit the Rumples on the way back, but station reported an incoming fog bank, so we quickly returned to base. This was my very first flight in Antarctica and although short it was the perfect sightseeing flight.