If you have a fancy camera at South Pole Station, you might get asked to shoot the annual aerial photos. As luck had it, that was one of my random jobs last week!
Our schedule for the photo flight was a bit unpredictable; the Twin Otter we used was schedule to leave for McMurdo within the next few days, and weather was not cooperating. A bit before lunchtime Thursday, I bumped into our pilot in the hall, who suggested we meet at the plane in 15 minutes to take a crack at the photos while we had a clear patch of sky.
Twin Otters are workhorses of the US Antarctic Program, used for anything too small (or for when it’s too cold/rugged) for an LC130. They can go essentially anywhere, anytime, and can haul a surprising amount of cargo. These are typically the first and last planes we’ll see at South Pole during the summer season; my understanding is that Twin Otters don’t have enough range to fly from McMurdo to New Zealand, so they cross the continent over Pole and fly up through South America to their home base in Canada.
I’ve spent plenty time working around Twin Otters, but hadn’t flown in one until this flight – surprisingly comfortable! For our flight, we had a few passengers (with cameras), and one of the windows had been replaced with a nice clean pane of glass, specifically for aerial photography. As it turned out, the glass tended to ice up, so I kept one arm occupied scraping the glass with a fuel card, and the other snapping photos.