Good weather has kept us busy down at the helicopter pad. We specialize in cramming 10 pounds of humanity and science into the proverbial 5 pound bucket, in this case a Bell 212 helicopter. On occasion we have to fly the big loads on the outside. Pictured above is a load of propane and diesel about to be hooked to the belly of the approaching aircraft. It is quite a thrill to have 11,000 lbs of thrashing machinery hovering overhead as you hook the cable to the belly.
Just over the hill from McMurdo Station is Scott Base, home to the New Zealand Antarctic Program. Notice the pretty green buildings and contained, thoughtful layout. The station has one main door with all the major buildings and workshops connected by heated corridors. Spectacular nature photographs from around New Zealand grace the station's interior. Windows are plentiful and oriented to take advantage of spectacular views. The base is a reflection of New Zealand's national identity: small, pioneering, connected to nature, and sensitive to quality of life. In short, Scott Base has a soul. To be fair, it also has 10% the population of McMurdo. More on the splendors of McMurdo later.
I haven't seen much of the Antarctic continent, but this place is my favorite so far. Situated about one hour WNW of McMurdo and just on the edge of the polar plateau is a glaciated version of the desert southwest. A geology group led by Dr. Dave Marchant of Boston University believes that they have found ice that is over a million-years-old under the rocks of the Beacon Valley. More on this research can be found at: http://people.bu.edu/marchant/ This is also one of the more challenging places we fly into. Katabatic winds coming off the plateau frequently cause nasty turbulance around these peaks.
Paperwork! What government contract work would be complete without forms in triplicate? In addition to monitoring instruments, scanning for other air traffic (C-130s, Twin Otters, and other helicopters), watching the weather, and generally keeping the pilot awake, helo-techs write up passenger manifests and track flight time. For those of you who've never tried to write legibly while riding in a 212, just imagine a washboard road in an old Toyota pickup at 35 mph. Or at least that's my excuse!