First midwinter airdrop to Australian Antarctic station

First midwinter airdrop to Australian Antarctic station

Video transcript

Dr Nick Gales, Director: A very exciting development in the Antarctic program, we did our very first ever winter airdrop down to one of our stations in Antarctica. It’s a brand new capability for us, working with the RAAF in one of their very large aircraft, a C-17. We were able to drop down mail, some medical equipment and some engineering gear. Our normal pattern is that we have access to Antarctica during the summer only from about October through to March. All of the equipment has to be very carefully planned as to what goes down on the ship, some on aircraft. But once you get to March and the last ship or the last plane departs you have what you have and you have to survive. So this is actually a really important change. It makes it safer to be down there. We can get gear that broke or ran out and we didn’t have spares down there and it just changes the way we can think about working.

Flt Lt Doug Susans, RAAF: We’ll be flying 2000 nautical miles from Avalon down to a drop zone in the vicinity of Casey station on Antarctica. We’ll be airdropping three CDS bundles – that’s a container delivery system bundle – onto the ice and then we’ll be flying back to Hobart. This trip is particularly challenging due to the nature of Casey station being right down in the polar regions of Antarctica. It’s very cold, there’s a lot of icing. A cargo drop is achieved from a C-17 by slowing down to approximately 145 knots, that’s about 270 kilometres per hour. We descend to approximately 5000 feet and we open the back of the aircraft up and electrically release the load and it rolls out the back. As it goes out the back a static line pulls the parachute open and then it falls onto the ground.

Matt Filipowski, Future Concepts Manager: The crews on the ground after the airdrop was completed located them on the drop zone up on the plateau of Antarctica and then they used heavy vehicles and machinery to load those. Each load was approximately 500 kilos each and then transported it the 10 kilometres back to Casey where they unpacked it and checked it all over.

[end transcript]

Cargo inside C-17A ready to be dropped.
Beginning of cargo drop sequence: cargo in C17-A ready to deploy. (Photo: Chad Griffiths/RAAF)
Cargo being dropped from the rear of the C17-A.Silhouette of plane and three containers with parachutes drifting to the ground.Cargo on ground near Casey research station.Expeditioners from Casey station recover cargo.Parachute and cargo on ground before it was packed up ready for transport to station.Loading cargo on to sled, ready to transfer to station.Cargo being transferred to station with a tractor and sled.

In complete darkness and with temperatures below minus 30 degrees, Australia has successfully undertaken its first midwinter airdrop to Casey research station in Antarctica.

A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) C-17A Globemaster III dropped 1500 kilograms of cargo for the Australian Antarctic Division onto the Casey plateau on Saturday.

While the mission was designed as a capability test, it was able to deliver medical supplies, expeditioner mail and mechanical equipment to the wintering crew.

The Division’s Future Concepts Manager, Matt Filipowski, said up until now access to Australia’s Antarctic stations has been limited to the summer months between October and March.

“During winter Antarctica is cloaked in darkness and experiences extreme temperatures, which means we can’t reach our stations by sea or air,” Mr Filipowski said.

“But with the new capabilities of the RAAF C-17A we can now drop essential supplies and equipment year round.”

Prior to the plane arriving, a team of Casey station expeditioners identified an area of the plateau for the airdrop.

Three padded containers were deployed from the back of the plane using a parachute system and the goods were then transported back to station.

“We were able to airdrop parts for a snow tractor which normally would not have been delivered until the ship or plane arrived in another six months.”

“This is a really significant development, improving the logistical support we can provide to all our stations, Casey, Mawson and Davis, over the long winter period,” Mr Filipowski said.

Flight Lieutenant Doug Susans, a C-17A Pilot said the aircraft routinely undertake airdrops across the globe but this is the first time in winter in a polar region.

“There were a number of challenging environmental conditions including freezing temperatures, darkness and a featureless environment,” Flight Lieutenant Susans said.

“We undertook training in the simulators before mission to make sure we were familiar with the locations, timings and observations.”

The Globemaster took off from Australia early Saturday morning for the 10 hour, nearly 8000 kilometre round trip to Antarctica.

This is phase two of a trial using the RAAF planes in Antarctica.

Last season the C-17A made six successful trips to Australia’s Wilkins Aerodrome to provide heavy-lift cargo for the Australian Antarctic programme.