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A Bell 212 Helicopter comes in for a landing at the Lake Hoare field camp
Photo Credit: Mike Lucibella
A Bell 212 Helicopter comes in for a landing at the Lake Hoare field camp.

Podcast: Helo Ops

Mike Tinervia (right) pilots a Bell 212 helicopter over the McMurdo Dry Valleys with Mike Jansen
Photo Credit: Mike Lucibella
Mike Tinervia (right) pilots a Bell 212 helicopter over the McMurdo Dry Valleys with Mike Jansen.

In Antarctica, scientists conduct cutting edge research on a harsh and barren continent. It’s no easy task, but to help make it happen the U.S. Antarctic Program employs small army of support staff to get these researchers the supplies they need, transport them to where they need to go and keep them safe throughout.

A lot of the jobs they do are the same that any small town needs to function, often with a specialized twist that comes with working in such a remote place, but others can be less obvious. The Antarctic Sun Podcast is taking a behind-the-scenes look at the workers and what they do to make science at the bottom of the world possible.

This week: Helo Ops

Without any network of paved roads, getting around Antarctica’s rugged landscape is tough. Helicopters are the primary means to transport people and equipment to the near field, the sites outside of McMurdo Station that are too far or are otherwise inaccessible by vehicles. Every day dozens of helicopters, or “helos” as they’re usually called, fly around Ross Island, the McMurdo Dry Valleys and the nearby transantarctic mountains.

It takes a lot of coordination to safely operate a small fleet of helicopters around the continent. With numerous of science groups and support teams needing them on a daily basis, they’re being used almost all the time. Making sure that everyone gets to where they need to go takes a lot of planning.

Especially when a day’s carefully planned schedule can go completely out the window as the wind shifts.

The weather around the continent is notorious for changing without warning. Still blue skies can turn into a blustery windstorm in the blink of an eye and just like that all the day’s flights are grounded until the weather improves. If conditions aren’t ideal, no one flies. It’s one of the challenges of working in Antarctica, but keeping everyone safe is the top priority of everyone on the helicopter operations crew.

Photo Gallery

Every day, before any flights get off the ground, the helicopter operations team meets to plan where they're flying and who’s going where
Photo Credit: Mike Lucibella
Every day, before any flights get off the ground, the helicopter operations team meets to plan where they're flying and who’s going where.
A Bell 212 helicopter undergoes maintenance in McMurdo Station's helicopter hangar
Photo Credit: Mike Lucibella
A Bell 212 helicopter undergoes maintenance in McMurdo Station's helicopter hangar. Because replacement pieces can be hard to get, the hangar is fully stocked with parts and tools to fix almost any potential mechanical issue.
Pilot Mike Jansen does the preflight checks on a Bell 212 before taking off
Photo Credit: Mike Lucibella
Pilot Mike Jansen does the preflight checks on a Bell 212 before taking off.
Helicopter techs Rebecca Voltin (left) and Jen Benedict get cargo and luggage prepped before a flight
Photo Credit: Mike Lucibella
Helicopter techs Rebecca Voltin (left) and Jen Benedict get cargo and luggage prepped before a flight.
An  A-Star 350 sits on the ground at Cape Royds
Photo Credit: Mike Lucibella
An A-Star 350 sits on the ground at Cape Royds.
A Bell 212 carries drums of liquid away from Cape Crozier
Photo Credit: Mike Lucibella
A Bell 212 carries drums of liquid away from Cape Crozier. Big loads like this one are slung under the helicopter.
At the end of a long day, McMurdo Station appears up ahead as the helicopter crew returns home
Photo Credit: Mike Lucibella
At the end of a long day, McMurdo Station appears up ahead as the helicopter crew returns home.
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Curator: Michael Lucibella, Antarctic Support Contract | NSF Official: Peter West, Office of Polar Programs