Friday, December 11, 2009

Ride in the Blue One

It's coming up on a month now that I've been back at McMurdo. It's going pretty well, but there have been a few down sides. One my cohorts on the trip down infected all of us with the "McMurdo Crud". It's really just a cold or flu, but for some reason down here it packs more of a whallop. I've had it for over three weeks now, and I'm finally shaking it. I have a great immune system, and I can't remember EVER having a cold for more than a week. I pretty much got sick the day I hit the ice, so I'm really looking forward to being healthy.

The job is way different in the summer. Now we have helicopters, so a lot of the time we are flying around to various exotic mountaintops to fix or install radio gear. In the winter it was more just hanging around the shop, fixing radios and charging batteries and stuff-- not too exotic. That's one of the reasons I decided to come back for the summer-- it's a much sexier job when the sun's up.

Earlier in the week, I got a chance to fly in the fanciest of the five helicopters we have down here. The regular stable consists of two Bell 212s, and two A-Stars. The Kiwis brought this beautiful new blue one down to replace their old 212. I believe it is a Eurocopter EC-130. We had to fly out to the top of Mt Aurora, to fix a VHF repeater that had stopped working. It was a very windy day, so the helos had been grounded for most of the day, waiting for calmer weather. In the afternoon they decided to make a run for it. We loaded up our gear, and took off from the helo pad. The blue helo is very quiet-- I guess they are used exclusively at the Grand Canyon for that reason. We flew out across the sea ice and the Ross Ice Shelf at about a thousand feet. Mt Aurora is the highest point on Black Island, where McMurdo's satellite earth station resides, along with a bunch of other communications gear. ( We landed the blue bird near the top of the mountain in howling winds. The pilot shut down and waited for us to do our work. After a bit, he started back up again, and landed in a more sheltered location. Coworker Mike and I replaced the broken dipole antenna on the repeater-- it had failed from constant exposure to the insane winds that Black Island sees (we saw through our remote monitoring system that winds had exceeded 200 MPH at one time last winter).

After checking to make sure the repeater was happy again, we schlepped our gear down to the helo, and loaded up. That's probably about the sixth time I had ridden in a helo, and it was definitely the spookiest. The pilots here are incredibly good, ours included, but taking off and landing a helicopter in high, gusty winds is just scary. I will surely get to do some more flying this summer-- I'm looking forward to it.

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