Runway one step closer
The proposed intercontinental air link between Australia and Antarctica is one step closer with the arrival of heavy runway construction machinery on the Vasiliy Golovnin at Casey in the next few days.
About $3 million of specialist equipment – with almost $2 million of that sourced through Tasmanian business – left Hobart at the beginning of January. This machinery will enable the major construction phase to begin at the Wilkins Ice Runway some 70 km inland from Casey after two seasons of preparatory work at the site.
All machines underwent modification in Hobart prior to their being sent to Casey to fit them out for the icy Antarctic conditions they will face on the cold inland plateau.
- Diesel fuel will freeze in Antarctica and all machines have been adapted to run on Special Antarctic Blend (SAB) fuel
- To increase traction on the snow and ice the rubber tracks and tyres have all been fitted with special steel studs
- The tractors and loader have been equipped with double glazed windscreens to reduce window fogging in the cold conditions
- Special heaters have been added to the engines to provide additional warmth in freezing conditions and facilitate an easier start
- Many modifications were made to the engine compartments to make the machines more suited to operating in the harsh environment. These include installation of radiator blankets and changes to bonnets and air intakes. Special caps have also been fitted so exhaust outlets can be plugged when not in use
- Special low temperature coolants, lubricants and battery acid have also replaced the standard issue
- High capacity batteries have been provided as well as jump starting plugs to start the engines should the batteries go flat
The Challenger MT865 tractor is designed for towing heavy loads and its main function will be to tow compaction rollers at the runway site, and later to tow equipment and supplies between Casey and the airfield.
The MT865 is a powerful, rubber-belted tractor with 16 speed transmission and an engine with over 500 horse power. The tractor is fitted with a steerable draw bar to assist turning when towing heavy loads. It is faster than its companion, the steel-tracked Caterpillar D7R.
The Caterpillar D7R is fitted with a massive blade specially designed to push large quantities of snow and ice. This blade is much larger than a standard D7 blade. It is also equipped with a ripper to tear up snow and ice berms. With more traction available than the Challenger MT865, this tractor will be used to do the more demanding preliminary runs with the compaction rollers over the runway.
The versatile Caterpillar 966G is multi-functional loader. It can be equipped with a number of different tools including a large blade for snow clearing into wind rows, forks and a bucket for lifting and transporting loads, a crane jib and two snow blowers.
A second compaction roller to complement the one already on site in Antarctica, was manufactured in a local Kingston workshop and will be used to compact the snow and ice surface.
The cargo includes a towed scraper designed and manufactured by a Queensland engineering company. The scraper will be employed to trim the snow pavement and for road maintenance. Additional infrastructure including two accommodation vans, a workshop van and a storage van, also manufactured by a local engineering company, were sent on this voyage for use at the runway construction site.
When it is complete the Wilkins Runway will be 4 km long and about 400 metres wide.
Written by Annie Rushton