Midway Weather

Friday, January 27, 2012


Yesterday I had to bag drag for the scheduled flight to PIG today.  After being tortured and stuck in town for the last five weeks, I was actually looking forward to being in McMurdo for the annual big outdoor ‘Icestock’ concert.

We headed out in the early morning hours for the 2 hour drive [14 mile] drive on the snow road out to Pegasus airfield.  It was impressive, if amazing, to see that a 4 inch fuel hose had been stretched the entire way from town to fuel the plane fleet at the airport.
Upon arrival we were directed to the double wide modular building that serves as galley and ‘passenger terminal’.  Inside I found tepid coffee and stale pastries that were trucked out from town the day before.  After an hour the pilot came to find us; he was waiting for the next weather report in an hour and a half, ‘but it doesn’t look promising and we probably won’t go today.’ 
He was also concerned that the MEDEVAC flight may need our airframe [a young guy with classic appendicitis that I had seen the day before at the clinic].  Of the three LC-130s stationed at McMurdo, one was unavailable since it was still on the 8 hour return flight from Christchurch that carried a MEDEVAC from yesterday that had us all sweating at the clinic. 
Usually the larger, faster, quieter C-17 makes the regular trips between Christchurch and McMurdo in 5 hours, but due to ground level fog and its stricter runway requirements, it had been unable to land at Pegasus for the last few days.  Instead, medical was forced to steal the LC-130s that are usually only used for shorter intra-continental flights in Antarctica.

With the long delay, and pending cancellation, of our flight I headed over to the bathroom module [a single wide trailer that belches smoke from the poop incinerator].  On my return walk to the galley I saw everyone outside the galley, frantically waving at me from a shuttle van.  Our flight was now suddenly on.
The loadmaster hustled us into the few canvas seats available in the front five feet of the fuselage; the remaining 100 feet aft was stacked to the ceiling with cargo for the camp, loaded and strapped for another combat offload.
Liftoff was interrupted by a quick idling of the engines and the appearance of the Engineer who scurried down from the cockpit to look out at the starboard side inboard engine.  I never found out what the concern was, but apparently all was well since we took off a short time later for the 6 hour [2,000 km] flight.

When we started out descent the copilot invited a couple of us up to the cockpit to watch the landing.  All I could see was flat white out to the horizon; for the first few minutes it seemed that we were still above the cloud bank, until I realized it was actually the ice sheet we were looking at. 

Because of a tight fuel budget, the pilot decided against a flyby [the usual practice at these deep field landing strips] and instead went straight in for an exceptionally smooth landing.

And suddenly there I was – on the ground at PIG camp.  After five weeks of delays.

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