Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ice Flight

The "ice-flight" from Christchurch to McMurdo Station on the Ross Sea of Antarctica is roughly equivalent in distance to flying New York to San Francisco, but it takes eight to nine hours because we lumber down in a 1960s era LC-130 US Air Force turbo-prop plane.  Below is a photo of the exterior after landing.
LC-130 turbo-prop on the Ross Ice Shelf

The landing gear has wheels that retract through gaps in the skis, which allows for landing on the frozen sea next to McMurdo.

Here are some photos of the plane's interior:

There's ample leg-room and spare seats, but the seat-backs improvised from netting get old after a few hours.  The front half of the plane is filled with passengers and the back half is used for gear.  I'm not sure what that large engine looking thing is in the back.

I had a friend in Grad school who had been an undergrad at Harvey Mudd.  He had this story about a road trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras where they bought a used city bus and filled it with old couches.  They also made a urinal from a funnel, surgical tubing, and a drilled hole in the side of the bus.  I imagine it it was similar in spirit to the one on the plane seen below.  The bathroom itself was improvised from a tarp.
The restroom

The Air-force issues ear-plugs because the engines are LOUD- there's little chance for conversation on the eight hour flight… or possibly the 14-16 hour flight!  Weather conditions are unpredictable and the flights have been known to get most of the way there and then "boomerang" back to New Zealand because of unsafe landing conditions.  We were lucky and managed the trip in just one day.  We're only a week shy of the Summer solstice down here, which tends to offer the best weather of the season.  I hope my return in mid-January is as seamless.

The plane lands at the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, about 15 miles from McMurdo.  As a final sucker-punch after the long flight, the bus ride takes about 1.5 hours because the bus rides at ~10mph so as to not damage the "road."


  1. roger...I'm loving this and following your blog but my first message to you disappeared, I think...I am enjoying your travels vicariously and hope all goes well...what an exciting adventure! I have one question...what exactly are MKIDS???

    1. Microwave Kinetic Inductance Detectors. They're a superconducting sensor that is useful for astrophysical observation. But all the experiments I've written about so far use a different type of detector (bolometers).