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18 December, 2000

Planes

AST/RO is humming away taking data, so this afternoon I went to the flight deck to see what happens when a plane comes in. In the summer, we will have up to six planes a day fly here from McMurdo.


Most of the planes that come to the South Pole are LC-130s, large cargo planes equipped with skis to land on the skiway at the pole. The skiway is a strip of snow that has been smoothed out for planes to land on.


When a plane lands, it taxis to the flight deck. Once there, the cargo the plane was carrying begins to be taken off. This is done through the door in the rear of the plane. If any passengers came in on the flight, they will get off the plane and walk to the dome. Once the passengers are off the plane, the fuel people can begin to syphon off any excess fuel that the plane is carrying. Here, the cargo is being taken off the plane, and the end of the fuel line is in the blue box in the foreground to keep it warm.


Power for the South Pole comes from airplane fuel. Every time a plane comes in, the fuel crew will connect a hose to the fuel tank, and pump fuel from the plane at a rate of 90 gallons per minute to an arch with large tanks where the fuel is stored. The plane is left with just enough fuel to return to McMurdo. Planes that are filled with cargo and passengers might not be able to leave very much fuel, sometimes only a few gallons. Other planes are carrying nothing but fuel to leave at the South Pole. These are called tankers, and will leave between 3,000 and 4,000 gallons of fuel. Occasionally planes will come in and need fuel to return to McMurdo. There is a tank of fuel on the flight deck that can be used for this purpose. In this image, you see this tank, the fuel shack with a member of the fuel crew in front of it, and the fuel line to the fuel arch. This line is marked with back flags.


In this picture, we see the fuel crew attaching the hose to the plane, and the cargo bay door in the back. You will also see that the propellers on the plane are still running. Planes that land at the South Pole leave their engines running. They are only here long enough to drop off and pick up cargo, fuel and / or passengers, and turning off the engines is risky since they might not start again for a long time. So engines are left running unless they are forced to shut them off for some reason. About one plane a year is turned off, usually because the weather has changed and they are unable to return to McMurdo immediately. In warm weather, -20F, the planes usually donít have a problem turning on again, but planes have been known to take hours or days to restart.


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