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.