Airplanes

LC-130 wing

In the air between South Pole to McMurdo

I’m back in New Zealand, after a night in McMurdo and C-17 flight from there to Christchurch arriving early yesterday morning. It amazes me how distant Antarctica feels already.

Transit between South Pole and New Zealand generally involves two flights on one or two types of military cargo planes – the LC-130 that’s been mentioned here several times, and the C-17 for lucky folks between Christchurch and McMurdo. From the perspective of an Antarctic air traveller, the C-17 is quicker, quieter, roomier, and more reliable than the LC-130. But, the C-17 lacks skis, so it’s not able to land at South Pole.

C17 at Pegasus

Our plane to Christchurch, parking at Pegasus runway

For as noisy and industrial as Antarctic cargo-class travel is, I actually prefer it to normal commercial air travel. It’s fun feeling the intense acceleration of a C-17′s short takeoff, there’s often room to wander around and lie down on the floor, few silly security pretences, and often a chance to ride in the cockpit.

inside of lc-130

Fellow passengers leaving Pole in the LC-130

inside of c-17

A few more people, but a lot more room, on the C-17 to Christchurch

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Transience

footprint sastrugi

Sastrugi, that started out as footprints

When I last posted here, we were just a couple days from the official end of Winter. Now, there are just a small handful of winterovers left on station, mainly “beakers” like me who have a bit longer to turn over to our replacements than most of the contractors have. Assuming no major changes in the weather or mechanical problems with the planes, we should all be heading North by the end of the week.

In the space of a day or two, the station population went from being ~40 very familiar people to nearly 150 with a bunch of new faces. Although we had a “soft opening” with several new summer folks to repair the Rodwell at the end of last month, it’s a bit of a shock to see all the new faces in our home and workplace all Winter. The routine from Winter is gone, it’s hard to keep from making inside jokes around people who don’t understand them.

Up until the first LC-130 took away some of our crew, I felt pretty comfortable here and wasn’t too antsy to leave. With most of my turnover done now, my (great!) boss on station to help the new guys, and most of my winter friends gone, it’s time to go.

What’s next? A bit of traveling I suppose, then probably some work after that. I’m certainly looking forward to a bit of the green, wet, muddy, complicated world up there, but will be missing the endless sastrugi before too long.

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Egg Whacker

egg whackerAlso known as a toque ouef, egg topper, or probably some other names – it’s a silly kitchen tool for putting a circular hole in the top of a soft boiled egg. The cup end is set on the top of an egg, then the captive brass ball is dropped onto the back of the cup. This was just a fun excuse to try out the radius turning attachment to the lathe and make something shiny out of brass and stainless steel.

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Snow

There’s so much snow around here that it sometimes can escape notice, but that’s not been the situation for the last few weeks.

Early on a Sunday morning nearly four weeks ago, we had a problem with the Rodwell pump. So far, the problem has proven unfixable, and we’ve had to resort to a snow melter to supply water. The snow melter is a lot of work to operate – it gets fed by a tracked loader, which has to be driven back-and-forth to the “snow mine” where the snow hasn’t been driven on in a long time, and so is very clean. Water is pumped out of the snow melter in a fairly labor-intensive process. The net result is that the snow melter can’t practically supply as much water as we had been using from the Rodwell, and so we’ve had to cut back on water usage.

snow melter

The wood box is the snow melter. I “got to” clear some enormous cornices off of this arch before we set it up.

Several of us have ended up hauling snow into the station to melt for our lower-priority water usage. We use melted snow like this for mopping the floors, some kitchen projects, humidifiers, etc. Early on, we had to cut back severely on showers and laundry, so I made up a little shower that was completely independent of the station’s regular water supply.

keg shower

Water is first heated using an old electric coffee pot.

Then, there’s been some weather. We’ve had a couple Baslers on station for nearly a week, they’re en route to McMurdo, but keep getting held up by bad weather here or there. One of the planes is meant to turn around and come right back to Pole, with some tools and people to work on fixing the Rodwell. Our recent storm caused quite a bit of drifting, which has required subsequent shovelling. Here is a drift that formed downwind from one of the planes getting cleared out.

clearing basler drift

Unfortunately they don’t have an instrument that shows progress as a red line on a map, like in Indiana Jones.

Finally, we’re getting station all cleaned up and ready for the new crew, as they should start arriving within the next week. There’s quite a lot of shovelling involved in cleaning up things outside, especially in areas that didn’t get much traffic in the winter. This is the upper deck of ICL, before we started shovelling it out yesterday.

snow on ICL

Incidentally, the server room is through the silver door, and we’ve had problems keeping it cool lately.

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Freshies!

first fruitOur third plane in brought a few flats of fruit in from South America – pears, apples, and oranges. We each got to pick one piece, a very nice treat at the end of a long day!

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Turner’s Cube

Recently, I had a good excuse to finally make a “turner’s cube”. It’s a project where the end product serves little purpose, except maybe holding down papers, but where the process can be a good learning experience.

The first step is to do a bit of planning – with my winter-addled brain, this was a little more challenging than it should’ve been. Here’s what I ended up tacking on the lathe backsplash board, the perspective is a bit weird, but it did the trick:turners cube 0

In terms of construction, the first step is to hack off a bit of stock – this is 4″ aluminium round, I think 6000-series, but it doesn’t really matter for this project.
turners cube 1

A 4-jaw chuck is used to make the cube. Unfortunately the jaws on our chuck weren’t long enough to hold the cube for the 3rd face, so I had the option of either spending a lot of time on making up a jig for that cut, or cheating a bit and using the mill.turners cube 3

The mill made quick work of flattening off some bits of the cylinder to make the part chuck-able in the lathe. I left some extra material, so that the final cuts would all be done on the lathe. This saved time on the milling operations, and made those nice concentric machining marks on each face of the resulting cube.turners cube 4

Although I designed the cube to be made with carbide insert boring bars, the ones we have available can’t handle the required overhang. For the larger tapered hole, I ground a 1/4″ HSS cutter to go in a boring bar holder. For the smaller conical holes cut out, I ended up using a small carbide grooving tool as a boring bar. Doing that required an adaptor, which I made with a bit of O-1 drill rod:turners cube 5

For a couple days worth of spare time, the cube was known as my “boring project”, as there was a lot of boring work to be done. In the end, each face required facing off, then a pilot hole, a 3/4″ hole to remove material, flattening the bottom of that hole with an endmill, then using a sequence of four boring bars to make the tapered holes. Each of those operations took a separate tool, so there was a lot of indicating in new tools in the lathe. Every-other face also included a 1/4″ hole to go through the innermost cube – I like the aesthetic, and it made turning the flat-bottomed tapered holes a bit easier.turners cube 6

Once three adjacent faces were done, I could see that the math worked out!turners cube 7

Finally, after a bit of tedious filing to de-burr the edges and corners, the end product was tested to hold down a piece of paper!turners cube 8

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New Arrival

first planeThe last few weeks here at South Pole have been somewhat hectic. In the midst of the other goings-on, we met our first outsiders in 8 months on Wednesday.

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