Yesterday, at 3:20pm, almost eight months after the last airplane left, the Kenn Borek operated Basler touched down at the South Pole, followed two hours later by a Twin Otter. They made the long trip from Canada, all the way down the Americas to Punta Arenas, at the Southern Tip of Chile. From there on to Rothera Station, on the Antarctic peninsula, before continuing to the South Pole.
The Twin Otter stayed over night, but the Basler was on the ground only long enough to refuel and to give us some fruit and vegetables the crew brought from Punta Arenas. These Canadians are always so nice.
The Basler continued on to McMurdo and, in a day or two, will start bringing the Summer people in, 18 at a time. This is the first season we try this so called soft opening. At this time of the year it is usually too cold for the Hercules LC-130 to fly and the Twin Otters are just too small to bring in enough people. The Basler will hopefully fill that gap nicely and allow us to extend the summer season by a couple of weeks.
What exactly is a Basler? The official name is BT-67 and it is a conversion of an old DC-3. The first DC-3 flew on December 17, 1935, only 32 two years after the Wright Brothers flight. Douglas produced thousands during WW II and they were later build under license in Japan and Russia. The aircraft is known for its versatility, rugged reliability and economy. Basler Turbo Conversions, LLC in Oshkosh, Wisconsin modernized the DC-3 to meet current aviation standards. The Wisconsin company extended the fuselage by 40 inches, lengthened the wingspan by 8 inches, replaced the cylinder engines with PT6A-67R turbo prop engines from Pratt & Whitney Canada, installed state-of-the-art navigational equipment and made extra room inside for a larger payload. With all the upgrades the aircraft has a range of 2,140 miles and can carry a payload of 28,750 lbs at a cruise speed of 242 mph.
The DC-3 is not new to Antarctica. A little less than 51 years ago, on Oct. 31, 1956, Lt. Cdr. Gus Shinn of the US Navy, made the very first landing of an airplane at the Geographic South Pole. A ski-equipped R4D-5, the Navy version of the DC-3, was chosen for this mission. The plane was named “Que Sera Sera” and I am not sure what this says about the confidence they had in the mission. Of course Lt. Cdr. Shinn was busy keeping the engines running while Operation Deep Freeze’s Admiral George Dufek stepped outside, thus becoming the first person to set foot at the Pole after Robert F. Scott’s party.
Starting with this (2007/2008) Antarctic season, the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) will also be using a Basler for the German Antarctic program. It is replacing ‘Polar 4’, a Dornier DO 228-101, which was severely damaged in January 2005 during a rough landing at the British Rothera station.