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Notes from the Field

More on the flight to Antarctica

November 30th, 2011 by Maria-Jose Viñas

By Randy Skinner

Our shuttles to the airport were waiting for us at 4:30AM on Monday, 21 November, as we were scheduled to report at the Clothing Distribution Center at 5:00AM. As we arrived we were instructed to change into our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) clothes. So we found ourselves hanging out in Christchurch at 65 degrees Fahrenheit, dressed in clothing designed for -20 degrees. It was a bit toasty.

After a short flight briefing and safety meeting we loaded onto busses for the ride to the aircraft. Our flight was on a USAF C-17 transport. It’s a big plane. The center of the fuselage was filled with pallets of gear and supplies for the base. There were 30 seats on each side of the fuselage for passengers, and seats for 25 more in the center at the front. With the plane filled with 80 passengers, including the King of Malaysia, we taxied out and took off into cloudy skies. It was 8:15AM.

Onboard, most people slept due to the early departure time, others searched though the sack lunches we were provided with for the 5-hour flight. As there is always a possibility the plane will “boomerang” (have to return to Christchurch without landing), the lunch is big enough to serve as two meals. It was a lot of food!

As we moved further south the temperature in the plane dropped lower and lower, until people were quite happy to have all of that ECW clothing on. Just before noon, out of the small porthole style windows on the plane (there are 6 windows on the whole plane), the edge of the sea ice, and the continent of Antarctica came into view. The feeling on the plane was electric. Not many people ever have the opportunity to visit this remote land.

We landed on a runway melted into the sea ice at 12:47PM. After thousands of miles, and days of travel and preparation, we were on the frozen continent.

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6 Responses to “More on the flight to Antarctica”

  1. Geraldo A. Lobato Franco says:

    How can I get a seat in one of these flights? Are they available to the rest of the world?
    I’m not sure I could pay for it, but, would you let me know how I could work for paying for it, at the best American tradition of doing one’s own dishes (or something like it…)
    I could bring my own lunch . . .


    It appears to be a very interesting trip. I would like to venture there.

    Will you tell me how much it costs and about its organization?

    Thank you.
    Best regards.

  3. Lora Koenig says:

    Geraldo and Preabruth,
    We travel to Antarctica as part of the US Antarctica Program (USAP) which is run by the National Science Foundation (NSF). We submit a proposal to do science and if it is funded, the NSF allows us on the flights to Antarctica. The following link has jobs and opportunities listed by USAP for those interested in traveling to Antarctica.
    In recent years private tour companies have also started to offer trip to Antarctica which I am sure can be researched on-line.

  4. Roland Bursey says:

    The white bunny boots are great, I have worn them without socks for a
    full day, walking and on snow machine, with temp at -15 F. Really warm.

  5. Geraldo A. Lobato Franco says:

    Hi Lora,
    many years ago I had a geologist friend who went to the South Pole.
    Ever since I learned that Helmuth Eherenspeck has died, but someone or another told me that his name was given to a local mountain, else, a geographic feature.
    I have no means to confirm this.
    Is it possible that you do it in my behalf and of that of UCSB Geology Department? For sure they will be glad to know it.
    Thanks, and happy new year!

    • Lora Koenig says:

      A good way to look for geographic names in Antarctica is the through the USGS Geographic Names Information System for Antarctica at this link:,P1_SHOW_ADV,P1_SHOW_FIPS55:Y,,

      Putting in your friend’s name with a slightly different spelling of Ehrenspeck comes up with the following result:
      Mount Ehrenspeck: One of the Cathedral Peaks, a group of summits that form a portion of the wall on the east side of Shackleton Glacier, in the Queen Maud Mountains. This peak (2,090 m) stands 2 mi SW of Mount Kenney. Named by Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (US-ACAN) for Helmut Ehrenspeck, geologist with the Ohio State University Party of 1970-71 which geologically mapped this vicinity.

      The location is given as 84.46S and 175.35W.

      It is truly a great honor for a scientist to have geographic features named in their honor in Antarctica.