This is the 31st entry in the Armed with Science series, Dispatches from Antarctica. The series features Air Force Lt. Col. Ed Vaughan’s first-hand experiences on OPERATION: DEEP FREEZE, the Defense Department’s support of National Science Foundation research in Antarctica.
7 November 2010, WAIS Divide Outpost, Antarctica: Cockpit views of a ski takeoff and landing
Major David Panzera, LC-130 ski-plane pilot with the 139 Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, provided this compelling footage of a routine ski approach and landing into WAIS (West Antarctic Ice Sheet) Divide Science Outpost. As you can see from the footage, even fair weather days present challenges for ski-plane operations.
Crews must work together to locate the camp’s skyway and then ease the plane on to the snowy surface. On takeoff, crews must continually monitor ski-to-snow surface friction and make adjustments to lift and drag, and thrust in the case of jet assisted takeoff (JATO), using the flaps. Such adjustments permit the plane to accelerate to speeds in the 65-70 knot range. This is normally sufficient to permit the pilot to raise the nose ski off the snow, reducing total surface friction enough to allow the plane to accelerate to takeoff speed.
In the event the pilot cannot raise the nose ski, or the plane fails to accelerate to takeoff speed, then the takeoff is aborted. Crews may try to takeoff several times before resorting to using JATO. JATO, actually eight small solid-fuel rocket engines, provide the equivalent of one additional engine of thrust for 10-15 seconds. That is often just enough excess thrust to permit the plane to overcome friction and takeoff.
Enjoy these pictures courtesy U.S. Air Force Col Gary James.