Tuesday, October 9, 2007

flying to McMurdo in cargo class

After spending a very pleasant spring week in New Zealand, Robin and I finally arrived at the USAP to change into our ECW gear and stuff all of our belongings into orange canvas bags, which hopefully when fully packed weighed 75 lbs. or less. We had woken up that morning about 4:45 to be ready for the shuttle bus at 5:30 to get us to the USAP by our 6:00 report time to get the 9:00 plane. But just as I was putting putting my toothbrush into my bag there was a knock on the door and the very nice man that runs the Windsor Bed and Breakfast was there to let me know there was a three hour delay, the shuttle would arrive now at 8:30 to get us on our way. Oh well, back to bed for a couple more hours of sleep.

So arriving at the USAP we changed into our gear designed to keep us warm in sub-zero temperatures on a sunny afternoon that was probably in the 60's. Too bad they didn't have a freezer for us to wait in. After an hour and a half of waiting we finally loaded onto the Hercules C-130. According to Wikipedia, the C-130 Hercules manufactured by Lockheed Corporation, is a four-engine turboprop cargo plane and the main tactical airlifter for many military forces worldwide. On December 2006 the C-130 reached the mark of 50 years of continuous use with its original primary customer (in this case the United States Air Force). The "Kiwi Herc" we boarded is in the service of the New Zealand Air Force. The C-130 is capable of short takeoffs and landings from unprepared runways and seems to be a reliable aircraft for transporting large amounts of cargo to Antarctica, in this case - people and luggage!

Instead of regular airline seats, we flew in relative comfort on benches made of canvas with cargo strapping seat backs. Yes, we had seatbelts, but no inflight entertainment. The engines were quite loud so everyone stuffed earplugs into their ears, which made it a little difficult to have any sort of conversation with each other. It was a rather long flight from Christ Church, New Zealand to McMurdo Station, about seven hours, but the last couple of hours were incredibly exciting once we spotted the frozen Antarctic continent underneath us. The mountain peaks and the varying patterns of ice and snow were breathtaking!

We finally spotted "town" and came in for a very smooth landing on the frozen ocean landing strip. The doors of the plane opened and a cold blast of air froze our breath into small puffs of cloud. We stepped out of the door and knew we were in a completely new world. The thing that struck me most, was walking on the surface that we had just landed on- aqua blue ICE. A great, big cargo plane landing on frozen ocean!! That's amazing.

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