Australian Antarctic aviation reaches new heights

3 December 2004

Today marks the start of a new era in Australian Antarctic science and exploration.

The first of two specifically modified aircraft for use in Antarctica has arrived in Tasmania before its inaugural flight to the frozen continent.

The CASA 212-400 – recently named Gadget in a nationwide competition for schoolchildren - is one of two specially commissioned aircraft that will support Australia’s Antarctic science program. The other – named Ginger – will begin service later in the month once final modifications are complete.

Gadget and Ginger are the names of two huskies that served with Australian scientist and polar explorer Douglas Mawson on his 1911–14 expedition.

The name Ginger was chosen by 14-year-old Gracie Falkenmire from the Presbyterian Ladies College at Croydon, New South Wales and Gagdet was chosen by seven year old Luke Clifton, of St Monica School, Kurrajong, also in New South Wales.

In giving their reasons for selecting the names of huskies, both students emphasised the important support role played by the dogs to Mawson's team in carrying equipment and sharing the hard times the men were subjected to in the hostile conditions.

Constructed in Spain, the first aircraft then spent several months in Canada where retractable ski landing gear was designed, manufactured and certified. The new skis were tested on the aircraft in Greenland before being given final approvals.

It is the first time in many decades that an aircraft of this size has been placed on skis and required a significant development capability.

The Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said that the introduction of the aircraft was a great step forward for scientific research in Antarctica because it meant improved support for the ever-increasing demand and diversity of science projects.

"Today hails a new and exciting era for Australian research in Antarctica," Senator Campbell said.

"These aircraft will allow greater reach into those areas of Antarctica that previously could only be reached by land traverse, ferry scientists to remote field locations more quickly and transfer personnel between stations within hours instead of days as has previously been the case by ship."

Senator Campbell said that the distance from Hobart to Australia's Casey station, the planes' landing point in Antarctica, was over 1860 nautical miles and would take around 12 hours.

"Given the distance and the fact that it is a non-stop flight, we are relying on the Bureau of Meteorology for information on the most suitable weather conditions. There needs to be a high degree of confidence that the winds will be right in order for the flight to go ahead," Senator Campbell said.

Due to the length of the flight and the time differences, the aircraft will most likely depart Hobart early in the morning.

The two pilots on each aircraft will carry a range of safety equipment for the flight including life rafts, rations, EPIRBs and a water maker.

Communications will be maintained with the pilots throughout the flight by HF radio based both in Australia and at Casey. The aircraft is also fitted with satellite communications equipment that can be used if HF communications becomes difficult.

The plane will carry only essential items to keep weight to a minimum. It will be fitted with three large internal fuel tanks to enable it to fly the required 16–17 hours.

Further information

Aircraft details:

CASA – a subsidiary of European Aeronautic Defence and Space company (EADS), makers of Ariane, Airbus and Eurocopter.

CASA 212-400:

  • the latest light-transport aircraft to be produced by EADS.
  • twin turbo-prop featuring digital cockpit to reduce pilot workload.
  • comprehensive communication and navigation suite.
  • Equipped with the latest generation turbine engines, it can move larger payloads over longer distances with a fuel efficiency that now allows non-stop flights between all Australian stations.

Operators – Sydney-based Skytraders Pty Ltd will operate the aircraft for the AAD after the signing of a 12-year contract in June 2003.