We're about 3/4 way through Winfly now. For those unfamiliar with the Antarctic program, an advance group of people come down in late August while it is still winter, to get the station ready to officially reopen. In between the last flight of Winfly and the first flight of Mainbody, the station is technically closed-- no flights in or out. Unfortunately, one of our Winflyers took ill, and a medevac was ordered. A Kiwi Herc (C-130 cargo plane) landed out at Pegasus field yesterday, and spirited the sick folks away. I happened to be out there at the time, and got to see the plane take off and land.
There were also some Aussies out there, working on their UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). I stopped in the hut they were working out of, and got to talk to them for a bit. They had three UAVs in the shop, and were rigging them up with electronic instrumentation. It's really fascinating-- the little planes have a wingspan of about nine feet, and are only about six feet long, weighing thirty pounds. The can fly them in hurricanes, though, and have flown them clear across the Antlantic ocean several times. They are equipped with Iridium phones for guidance, and regular radio remote control for when they are within fifty miles. They have GPS on them, and telemetry to track various functions of the engine, etc. The group lost one on the sea ice a couple of weeks ago. They knew from the telemetry data that it had lost fuel pressure. It's sitting out on the rough sea ice, miles from McMurdo. They are going to leave it out there, because it's just too hazardous to land a helo out there to retrieve it. The guys said that with out any special instrumentation, the bare planes go for about $70,000US. They don't have any landing gear, so they launch them from a special rack on the back of a pickup. The science group is studying sea ice. Instruments on the little planes measure light and radiation reflected from the ice between here and Terra Nova Bay, the location of an Italian base a couple hundred miles north of us. I don't know much about the grantees on this one-- I'm going to be looking into it.