Wilkins runway construction and maintenance

Yellow bulldozer pushing ice and snow
Bulldozer clearing snow: first step in runway preparation
Large tracked vehicle clears snow on runwayA large proof roller flattens the icy runway

Runway construction techniques

The Wilkins Runway is constructed out of glacial ice, the original intent had been to snowcap the glacial ice to raise friction levels for wheeled aircraft operations and improve protection of the ice surface from pitting and melting. Snowcapping requires a narrow ambient temp window which are only and infrequently available in the warmest weeks to ensure the correct reactions can occur between the compressed snow crystals.

In 2006/2007 a snowcap of 1 km was constructed on the runway however by the end of the next season it had ablated away. To compensate for the lack of snowpaving, the glacial ice runway surface is tillered by a snowgroomer to manufacture higher friction levels prior to each flight of a wheeled aircraft.

The Wilkins site comprises approximately 70% exposed ice and 30% snow cover that is less than 1 m deep. The foundation of the runway is natural glacial ice, rolled with proof rollers to ensure that the surface ice has suitable bearing strength and integrity to support the aircraft.

The runway surface is maintained by a grader fitted with a serrated cutting blade, snow blowers and snow groomer.

The Antarctic Division acknowledges the valuable technical assistance that Mr George Blaisdell, working for both Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory and the United States Antarctic Program, has provided during the construction of the runway.

For more information see also: