The biggest activity going on at Davis over the last two weeks has been the construction of the Ski Landing Area, or runway, on the sea ice just off station. This involves creating an area of 1.5km by 50m, which is relatively flat, heading into the prevailing wind direction, and marked out and flagged for use by aircraft.
Because the runway is located on sea ice, it is seasonal. It is created around late October when the first plane arrives ahead of the summer season and remains open until the sea ice starts to decline in quality or Woop Woop (the Ski Landing Area up on the Plateau) is up and running.
As we have yet to receive our summer crew, which includes the aviation ground support officers (AGSO’s), it’s up to the mechanics to groom the snow and create the runway. How much work it requires largely depends upon the weather conditions experienced over winter. In our year of abundant snow fall, our sea ice has a thick covering of snow on it, so this was groomed to provide a flat surface but essentially left in place. In some places this snow is up to half a metre thick, while the ice is over 1.6m deep.
Part of the requirement of setting up the runway was for two people on station attend an aviation reporting officer workshop. Richard and I were the two people selected to do this course and attended the 4 am video link with the AGSO’s training in Hobart to become qualified to take on this role.
With three diesos who are perfectionists, the runway was always going to be done to spec. The hours spent grooming the site however, and the beautifully geometric result, is like a piece of art. Consequently, when Richard and I went around conducting the Serviceability and Condition reports in order to officially open the runway, the measurements were spot on.
Once open and during the flying schedule, the runway is checked daily for smoothness and any unwanted obstacles. Richard checks the smoothness of the surface by driving a skidoo up and down the runway. This is the highlight of his day. I think he’ll have separation anxiety from the skidoo once the AGSO’s arrive and claim the runway for themselves.
The obstacles encountered are mostly the occasional penguin who out of curiosity, walks over to check it out. Tobogganing on the groomed surface is also pretty effective, and they seem to enjoy crossing from one side to another on their bellies. They soon lose interest however and continue on their way.
Another activity we underwent in preparation of starting our flying season was to conduct an emergency response exercise with a plane in the scenario. This covered topics like how to evacuate a plane, and who would do what in a real emergency involving medical, mechanical and environmental factors.
Having got ourselves fully prepared to receive the Twin Otter that was due to arrive on Saturday it was now a case of ‘hurry up and wait’ until they got here. The team of three: Doug (captain), Jeff (co-pilot) and Ryan (engineer) are Canadian and very experienced at working in both the Arctic and Antarctic.
Their journey to Davis began in Calgary, they then stopped en route in Costa Rica, Punta Arenas, Rothera station, the South Pole and ended here. The one leg between the South Pole and Davis took 10.5 hours due to inclement weather around the Amery Iceshelf. They finally arrived yesterday, and with our 1.5km long runway, they only used about a third of it. This super agile plane gracefully floated down to us, with her skis ready, looking like a seabird with its feet out ready to touch down.
It was fantastic to see the team arrive. And quite strange to have three new faces on station. They blend right into the team however, and are looking forward to lots of flying in the weeks ahead.
Kirsten (Station Leader)