Geographic South Pole


Fourmilab South Pole Expedition

January, 2013

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Flight to Antarctica

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2013-01-11 22:52 UTC Click images for enlargements.

The Ilyushin IL-76 military transport plane is the essential air bridge between Punta Arenas and the blue ice runway at Union Glacier. Its short field capability, long unrefuelled range, large payload (more than twice that of the C-130 Hercules which is the mainstay of U.S. operations in Antarctica), and ability to brake to a stop on the ice with thrust reversers alone make it ideal for cargo and passenger transport.

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2013-01-04 16:35 UTC

The payload bay is about half cargo…

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2013-01-11 18:11 UTC

…and half passenger seats.

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2013-01-04 16:37 UTC

Of course there's a crane! In fact, one for each side.

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2013-01-04 16:59 UTC

The loadmaster's station is at the front of the payload bay, with duplicate flight instrumentation. The loadmaster seemed grumpy through most of the flight, but broke out into a broad smile after we'd come to a stop on the blue ice runway.

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2013-01-11 18:11 UTC

That's an icon of St. Nicholas at the top of the loadmaster's panel.

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2013-01-04 18:27 UTC

The toilet on board is, as they say, “rudimentary”.

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2013-01-04 17:23 UTC

There are only a few windows in the payload bay, and they're less than ideal optically. Here are a few images from the flight.

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2013-01-04 17:32 UTC

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2013-01-04 18:02 UTC

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2013-01-04 18:03 UTC

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2013-01-11 18:10 UTC

When you arrive in Antarctica after three and a half hours in the dimly lit cargo bay of the Ilyushin and the door and cargo ramp open, the most stunning impression is the brilliance of the light from outside. It's almost like opening the hatch of a spaceship on Mercury. You'll immediately want to put on sunglasses, even before venturing outside.

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2013-01-04 20:14 UTC

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2013-01-04 20:14 UTC

Here we are in Antarctica! The first few steps on the blue ice runway are pretty treacherous. Once the soles of your boots cool down to the temperature of the ice, it's substantially less slippery, but you still need to be cautious lest a gust of wind send you sliding.

Note: it is difficult to get good pictures inside the IL-76. The inside lighting is dim, requiring a large aperture, while you also need a short exposure to eliminate blurring due to vibration. With a large aperture, depth of field is limited. Finally, there is a tremendous difference in internal lighting and that from windows and doors (when open). Due to these constraints, you're likely to have a large number of duds for each good shot. In this page I have used pictures taken both on the flight into Antarctica and the return in order to present the best views of the interior of the plane. I don't identify the flight on which each picture was taken in the descriptions, but you can figure it out from the dates below the images.

by John Walker
February 22nd, 2013
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This document is in the public domain.