Tuesday, December 23, 2014

13. Put-In: Insertion to the Ford Ranges, Marie Byrd Land

Excerpt from Chapter 13
Put-In on Chester snowfield Ford Ranges, Antarctica. 
Photo © B. Luyendyk

[Scene: A ski-equipped Hercules flies the Team to the fieldwork area eight hundred miles from McMurdo. Reconnaissance determined that a snowfield between the Chester and Fosdick Mountains is a good landing zone. No aircraft have landed there before. The pilots conduct a Ski Drag procedure before landing to detect hidden crevasses.]


We approached the surface. The whiteness of snow was close at hand reflected on the underside of the wings. Light from the few portholes increased, brightened the cargo hold. We were about to do a Ski Drag, a high-speed skim along the snow to locate crevasses in our landing path. A BUMP and a strong jolt said we contacted the surface. Deep sounds of BAM, KER BAM, BOOM, BAM, BOOM, BOOM, BAM followed - like inside a giant kettledrum. The Hercules collided with wind carved ridges on the snow surface, sastrugi. Between BOOMS and BAMS the plane shook, creaked, rattled, squeaked and groaned, twisted in all directions from repeated violent collisions. What’s happening? Are we crashing? My eyes open I could not focus. I saw double, couldn’t keep my head pointed in any one direction. After about a minute the pilot applied power, the engines moaned, collisions stopped, we were airborne again.

Across the interior of the cargo hold a crewman looked pale and frightened. Our Team did not speak or look at each other. My heart raced. Geezus. Damn. Was that normal? We climbed, banked and began a circle to allow the crew to look down at the track of the Ski Drag for crevasses that’d been blasted open.

It must have looked OK because we lined up for an approach to repeat a Ski Drag off to the side of the first one. We descended to do it again.
The pilot explained the procedure to us the day before.
“We need two Ski Drags five hundred yards apart to see if crevasses open up on either track, if not, we land in the lane between the drags,” Ed said. He said this matter of fact. I think I saw a faint smile on his face. Did he have the idea this would be fun?

What if we find crevasses? Then what? He dropped the Herc down to the surface and we did the second Ski Drag. BAM, BOOM, BOOM, BAM, KER BAM, just like the first, skimmed for about a mile, took off to make another circle to view the result. No hazards seen the pilots took us in for a third approach. This time we knew we would be landing. I assumed the crew could tell if the drags had damaged our landing skis. I let go of that thought.

We touched the snow in the lane between the Ski Drags and again endured violent bangs and shakes before we slowed at the southern slopes of the Fosdick Mountains. The plane halted. I felt relief. Christine reached over to me on her right and gave me a big wet kiss on my left cheek. She thanked me. At the time I wondered…what for?

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