The 2016/17 summer has seen a very busy aviation program, particularly for the helicopter team at Davis station. The season kicked off with the arrival of two Airbus Helicopters H125 aircraft on the Aurora Australis in early November.
The H125 is a modern high performance single engine helicopter perfectly suited for the work we do in Antarctica. They are capable of transporting up to five passengers or carrying over 1000 kilograms as an under-slung load. With a full tank of fuel they can fly for up to three hours and cover over 500 kilometres.
The helicopter team consists of two pilots and two engineers. Paul (Senior Pilot), Dave P (Pilot), Rowan (Senior Engineer) and Wayde (Engineer) made up the first team that arrived on the Aurora Australis. They had a busy start to the season getting everything set up, ensuring everyone was trained to work safely around the helicopters and then a lot of local flying around the Vestfold Hills and as far afield as Amanda Bay.
In mid–December myself, Toby (Pilot), Euan (Senior Engineer) and Angus (Engineer) arrived to swap out with the first crew. We will return to Australia at the end of the season with the helicopters aboard the Aurora Australis.
A typical day for the helicopter team starts with a meteorological brief from the superbly talented forecasters Damo and Rach, who give us an overview of what we can expect to be happening with the weather for the day. From there we also complete the Air Task Risk Assessment for each job we are going to do that day. While all this is going on the engineers are at the hangar carrying out pre-flight inspections on the aircraft and getting them out on the helipads and refuelled ready for the days flying.
Any time we are flying the super professional communications operators, Mick and Sam are always only a radio call away and keep track of our movements and pass us any new information or changes to the schedule all while handling multiple different radio channels. A special mention must go to Sharon, the operations coordinator, who manages all the different projects requesting helicopter time, completes the Air Task forms and comes up with the plan of what we will do each day.
This summer we have undertaken work in support of a number of different scientific programs. Our regular customers include seabird ecologists, chemists, glaciologists, geologists and geophysical scientists. We are also the only link to the skiway which is located of the plateau so are always busy flying the Aircraft Ground Support Officer’s (AGSO’s), fixed wing crew and passengers to and from their flights.
We have been incredibly fortunate to have amazing weather this summer allowing us to undertake a number of deep field projects with some flights over 500 kilometres from station. These long range flights would not be possible without careful planning and a lot of team work from everyone involved, especially the field training officers, Christian, Nick, Gideon and Billy.
A particularly memorable task for all involved this season saw both helicopters and the Twin Otter fixed wing aircraft deploy to a remote deep field site called Scullin Monolith.
Scullin Monolith is a large crescent shaped rock formation rising 420 metres out of the ocean. It is an Antarctic Specially Protected Area and requires a permit to enter. Few people have ever visited Scullin and it is home to one of the largest colonies of seabirds in Antarctica including over 160,000 pairs of Antarctic petrels and 70,000 pairs of Adéle penguins. Scullin Monolith is only 160 kilometres from Mawson and it took the helicopters over three hours to reach the area, including a refuel stop at Sansom Island.
The aircraft were tasked to Scullin to remove an old fuel depot that was left over from a previous research expedition to the area several years ago. While the helicopters were able to land directly on the rock at Scullin and prepare the drums for transport, the Twin Otter landed on the snow at nearby Mt Hinks to provide additional fuel for the helicopters and then transport the fuel drums removed from Scullin back to Davis. The entire operation went off without a hitch and was completed in record time considering the distances involved.
Nothing that we do at Davis would be possible without the incredible team work of all involved and special thanks must go to the forecasters, comms operators, AGSO’s, FTO’s, the ops coordinator and our aircraft engineers who all work tirelessly in support of aviation operations.
Dave L (Senior Helicopter Pilot)