CASA 212-400 aircraft

Little red plane int eh sky over the ice.
CASA 212-400 in the air (Photo: Wade Fairley)

Ski-equipped CASA 212-400 (C-212) aircraft were once used for intra-continental operations.

The C-212 is a purpose-built STOL (short take-off and landing) aircraft intended for rough field trips and military /government operations. Although it is an eight tonne aircraft, it is very capable in terms of short field take-offs and landings, such as those necessary in remote area Antarctic flights.

The C-212 is a turboprop, twin-engine aircraft. Each engine has a capacity of 925 horse power. Due to its larger range, the C-212's requirement for fuel depots was considerably less than in previous years when the De Havilland Twin Otter aircraft have been used, and even less than those required for helicopters. This configuration made the C-212 suitable for general Antarctic operations, while the payload/range characteristics made it suitable for the long distances between Antarctic stations.

The planes use aviation turbine kerosene (ATK) which has icing inhibitor added. Fuel itself doesn't freeze below about minus 50° C, but it often contains water molecules suspended in it. The icing inhibitor works by removing the water from the fuel.

The aircraft deployed directly from Hobart to Dumont D'urville to the Casey facilities for refuelling and support, taking approximately 12 hours with only the flight crew on board.

A crew of five pilots and three engineers operated and maintained the C-212 aircraft owned by contracted service providers Skytraders Pty Ltd. Each flight had two pilots on board.

Flights were made predominantly in support of field science, deploying and collecting parties and equipment between various locations. When not in use during breaks between flights in Antarctica, the two C-212s were secured to the ice with tie-downs, as there were no aircraft hangars.

No model of C-212 had previously been flown with skis, and the aircraft underwent a number of modifications prior to deployment for their first season with the Australian Antarctic Programme. These include being fitted with:

  • Skis;
  • Iridium satellite phones;
  • Cockpit voice recorders;
  • Flight data recorders;
  • Astro compasses;
  • Three purpose-built fuel tanks in the cabin which were installed for the flights to and from Antarctica;
  • Still and video cameras.
At Casey, the planes landed throughout the season on a prepared skiway on the plateau several kilometres behind the station. Passengers were transported to the station in Hägglunds over-snow vehicles, a trip which took approximately one hour.

Skiways are designed for ski equipped aircraft, whereas wheeled aircraft use runways but for field operations, the C-212s could land on certain unprepared surfaces when necessary.

During the earlier part of the summer at Davis, the aircraft landed on the sea-ice in front of the station, then later landing on a plateau skiway about 40 km from Davis. Passengers were then flown to the station by Squirrel helicopters.