Expedition mechanic Harry on his time at Wilkins Aerodrome

Sending summer expeditioners back to Australia and cleaning up after a blizzard

What an amazing summer season it’s been at Casey! A lot has happened so far on the 75th ANARE with summer now quickly coming to a close. We recently had to farewell a large piece of our Casey family. This is a brief recap on both the most recent flight out on 25 February and the six days I spent at Wilkins Aerodrome assisting the team there as an expedition mechanic.

A jam-packed Terrabus left station just after 5am to commence the transit to Wilkins Aerodrome. As we left station, we were farewelled under the eerie orange glow of some expired flares burning away in the snow. The weather window for both flights out was so small that both the C-17 and A319 flights were moved to the same day! Once we arrived at Wilkins and left the bus, everyone breathed a sigh of relief as the sun rose to clear skies. Unfortunately the sun didn’t offer much warmth or respite to the bitter -20 degree wind chill.

The A319 soon landed, a bittersweet feeling, as everyone said their goodbyes to those staying behind for the winter. Within no time the C-17 had also arrived, offloading its cargo before the last few summerers boarded to head home. An aerodrome that at one point during the day bustled with 60-odd personnel quickly fell silent as only six of us remained! As soon as we took the runway flags and signage down, a blizzard arrived almost instantly. The next 48 hours outside were mostly a complete white-out as 80 kt winds howled through, depositing 2 m high blizz tails around all the buildings and bringing the visibility nearly down to zero. Jimmy, Reno and Big Man were quick to school me in multiple games of baseball and "around the world" on the dartboard mounted beneath the stairs! We caught up on all the movies and TV shows we had missed over the past few months and on one occasion Reno and I left the building to check on the main generator intake for snow build up. The blizzard made a 15 m walk feel like a 5 km run as we navigated our way to the genset hut via the blizz-line.

Waking up the next morning, the blizzard had finally subsided and we began the meticulous task of prepping the runway for the next flight and digging away the snow from all the machines and buildings. The runway had been virtually swept clean by the winds revealing an amazing and vast slab of glacial blue ice. During my last few days at the aerodrome, we were lucky enough to have perfect weather which made machine breakdowns a lot easier!

In what felt like the blink of an eye, it was time to jump in a Hägglund and head back to Casey station for the last few weeks of my summer season. Whilst the aerodrome life was far quieter than the hustle and bustle of Casey, I thoroughly enjoyed the people and the unique ‘Antarctic feel’ of the place.

-Harry Wells (Expedition Mechanic)