Southland helicopter pilots will resume flying scientists around Antarctica in temperatures hitting minus 30 degrees in coming months, after a season off the ice due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Southern Lakes Helicopter pilots base themselves at Scott Base and fly scientists and their equipment around Antarctica during the summer season of October to February each year.
The Te Anau-based company owner Sir Richard Hayes said its contract with Antarctica New Zealand had been going a decade, but was suspended in 2020 due to Covid-19.
Now it’s back on, with pilot Andrew Hefford and engineer Ben Wilson coming out of two-weeks in managed isolation before being flown to Antarctica on Monday in a US Airforce Boeing aircraft which had a Southern Lakes B3 squirrel helicopter on board.
They will be replaced after two months by Southern Lakes pilot Craig Lyders and engineer Tim Gordon.
“Their primary job is flying scientists around Antarctica for their science gathering,” Hayes said.
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The science gathering was around climate change and global warming, while the pilots also worked with marine biologiosts and geologists.
“Whatever they want to do with the science gathering side of it, we support it, we fly into the dry [snow free] valleys on a regular basis, up to Victoria Valley … we do a lot of flying around Mt Erebus … it’s pretty full-on for four months.”
It was “reasonably demanding flying” due to the definition of the land being lost when storms blew through, Hayes said.
“But there’s some beautiful days down there too, where it’s just wall-to-wall blue. It’s not all white, there’s a lot of definition and features, wind blown exposed rock ridges.”
The squirrel helicopter was certified to fly in temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees celcius, with the temperature about minus 21 degrees on Wednesday.
Hayes said the squirrel was a robust aircraft and heating systems had been inserted to keep oil tanks and transmissions at above zero temperatures while it was on the ground.
It was “very interesting work” for the Southern Lakes pilots, with Hayes saying he had a long list of CVs from people keen to work on the world’s southern-most continent.
“It’s 24 hours of daylight of course, sun never goes down from the time we arrive until the time we leave … then in winter it’s 24 hours of darkness.”
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