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Operation Antarctica: Last Flight to the Ice

RNZAF B757 on the Ice 10 March
The RNZAF B757, NZ7572, on the Ice on 10 March 2013.

The total weight of cargo and people moved this season is more than 5 million lbs. It’s a massive joint operation between the US and New Zealand to provide airlift services to the Antarctic.

The US provides C-17 and LC-130 ski-equipped Hercules and New Zealand provides C-130, P3 and B757 aircraft, which land and take off without skis, to transport freight and passengers to the Antarctica.

The last flight saw the aircraft take the last few passengers to Antarctica for the long winter stay-over and return home with 60 people not wintering over.

The biggest risk for Antarctic flying is the remoteness. The weather is extremely changeable and can make the journey extremely difficult. Speed is essential in getting all passengers loaded and away as quickly as possible as the weather can change dramatically on the ice.

There is a strict criteria for aircraft serviceability and how to deal with malfunctions in remote areas. The B757 doesn’t have enough fuel to go to the Antarctic and return to New Zealand without refuelling. As the flight one way is approximately four and a half hours, the ‘point of safe return’ is three hours into the journey. After that point, if the weather deteriorates, or the aircraft malfunctions, the aircraft can only proceed South. It can’t turn back.

The B757 can take up to 156 military and civilian passengers including scientists and researchers heading to the base for research purposes and carries everything needed to make a Base work, such as chefs, cleaners, electricians, construction workers and operations staff to help build and maintain the facilities at Antarctica.

RNZAF Boeing 757 aircraft have been flying to Antarctica for the past four years.

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