Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Let the 2011/2012 Field Season Begin

Nick, Shah, Andy, Ewing passing time on our
C-17 flight to the ice

McMurdo Station, Antartica. After 30 hours of travel, and a week of training and orientation, the 2011/2012 field season has begun. We have several new faces on the flight test team this go around, including my own. Out are the common denominators and foundation of the project, Dr. Rick Hale and Bill Donovan, and in are the fresh faces of Dr. Mark Ewing, my own, Austin Arnett (the radar guy) and Ryan Lykins. Ryan is a seasoned flight test team member, but this is his first time in Antarctica. Although Dr. Hale and Bill aren’t with us in person, their support back home has remained crucial to the success of the project. The other usual suspects on the team are Dr. Shah Keshmiri, A&P mechanic Andy Pritchard, pilot Nick Brown, and head radar guy Dr. Carl Leuschen.

The team left Lawrence on December 3rd and arrived in Christchurch on the 5th. There was a quick turn around and we landed on the ice on the 7th. Since half the team was on the Antarctic campaign two years ago, they did not have to go through the full training. This was beneficial to the team because they could get a head start on unpacking and making arrangements for the upcoming flights.
The arrival at Pegasus Field
Happy Camper site with our supplies
As for the rest of us, it’s been a week of training courses, lectures, and PowerPoint presentations. The highlight of the training was without a doubt Happy Camper and snowmobile training. Dr. Ewing, Austin, Ryan, and I were in a group of 18 people that were taken out to the vast white to learn snow camping and survival skills as part of the Happy Camper training. Our campsite consisted of eight tents, a kitchen, and snow trenches (for those who still had energy after the aforementioned was all set up). All of us except Dr. Ewing spent the night in their trench (or as I fondly refer to mine: the Snow Chateau). I’m sure Dr. Ewing would have spent the night in a trench as well, but he was busy with kitchen duties all night.

Ryan and Ewing building the kitchen
The next morning we arose to a DIY breakfast of oatmeal, granola bars, and hot drinks, and proceeded to clean up camp. The unfortunate part of digging up the snow is that you have to fill what you dig. Somehow we mustered the energy to fill our trenches and breakdown our tents to finish off the training with some scenarios such as a simulated plane crash in the vast white and a lost camper in Condition 1 weather.
Camp all set up, with the kitchen in the foreground

Taking a break from building the Snow Chateau
The next day was snow mobile training for Ryan, Dr. Ewing, and I (the others just have refreshers). I’ve never driven a snow mobile before so the thought that they were just going to hand one over to me was both intimidating and exciting at the same time. It’s an understatement to say I thoroughly enjoyed the training that included an obstacle course at the end. I have now anointed myself the unofficial snow mobile lead for our team. No one has questioned my position yet.

The team hiking up Ob Hill
As of yesterday, we have officially completed all of our training. Although it was enjoyable, I think everyone has been itching to dive into flight tests. In addition to completing training we have also finished our transition to night shift. Although the constant daylight has helped the transition, we also tried to stay active in the evenings to prevent early bedtimes. The evening after the SkiDoo training we hiked up Observation Hill just outside McMurdo. It was a good activity to keep us awake and built some camaraderie amongst the new team.
We're on the top of McMurdo!

Ryan and Nick set up the ground station
Final prep of the Yak before flight
Last night we got off our first flights of the season with the Yak-54.  We completed two 15 minute flights. The first was an autonomous flight where we reached roughly 12 waypoints before our flight time was up. The flight was a pseudo-over-the-horizon flight. I say “pseudo” because I’m told technically it wasn’t over the horizon, but it was so far away we couldn’t see it—so I’d count it. The purpose of the second flight was mostly to practice the communication between the pilot, the pilot’s assistant (NOT assistant to the pilot, that’s an Office joke for those of you who didn’t catch it), and the ground station team. Since I serve as the liaison between the pilot and the ground station team it’s imperative that we have a good flow of communication and understand each other.

Austin closing up the radar box

All in all it’s been a good start to the season, and hopefully we can ride the momentum of the successful Yak flights. We are currently prepping the Meridian for ground and taxi tests. If all goes well we’ll likely be in the air by the beginning of next week. The radar team checked their system last night and everything looks good on their end as well. The team is in good spirits and we’ve had really good weather (today was a sweltering 34oF) and visibility.

1 comment:

  1. The pictures which you have shown above are amazing. Antarctica is great place for discovery, mountain climbing etc. The all guys are shown in these pictures I think they are very happy in Antarctica and also enjoying the tour a lot.
    Tours of Antarctica