Wilkins Aerodrome is situated about 70 kilometres from Casey research station on the Peterson Glacier. As the glacier is constantly moving, around 12 metres per year, the Aerodrome co-ordinates are adjusted every year. Heavy earthmoving equipment is used to shape the ever-changing ice that the runway is situated on.
The team at Wilkins recently conducted 12 weeks of runway construction to make sure that the runway meets the needs for operations into the next 10 years, along with maintaining CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) specifications which are required to meet the certification needed to operate the runway.
During the construction phase, a normal day consists of a pre-start meeting at 7:30am. This is used to assign the day’s tasks to the expeditioners and rehash any safety related matters. The team then pre-starts all the machines required for the day to allow them to warm up to operating temperature.
The machines usually required for construction include a grader, bulldozer, loader with Gjerstad (hydraulically operated front blade) and loader with snow blower attachment. As the grader peels away large chunks of ice, the loaders work in unison to move the ice away from the runway to a predetermined distance. Whilst this is happening the bulldozers are hard at work moving the snow and ice further away from the runway edges.
The team breaks for lunch at 12:30pm. During the morning, the Wilkins Camp Support officer has been hard at work preparing a nutritious and delicious meal for the expeditioners. Lunchtime runs for an hour, then it’s back into the machines for the afternoon shift. At around 5:30pm all the machines are fuelled up and parked ready for the next day. Dinner is served at 6pm. After dinner, time is your own to read a book, watch a movie or catch up on personal administration.
As the season neared the end, construction was completed for the year and the team started preparing for the flying season. On a typical flight day one person must wake up at 2am to start weather observations. The rest of the team wake up around 5am to conduct a runway condition report, flag up, hoist the wind direction indicators and position all equipment ready for the flight.
If the weather is stable and the aerodrome is open, the flight will be given permission to land. After the aircraft is safely positioned on the apron the team works hard to disembark all passengers and unload the cargo. Once everything is unloaded the outgoing passengers and their bags will be loaded onto the aircraft.
Operational checks are then completed on the runway and the plane is given the ok to take off from the Aerodrome Manager. The expeditioners then work for another couple of hours packing up the runway before heading back to the mess for a hot meal. Working as an expeditioner at Wilkins Aerodrome is a very demanding job, but it is also very rewarding when you achieve the safe turnaround of large commercial aircraft.
Wilkins Aerodrome Plant Operator