January 16th marked a ‘cool’ moment in the Air Force’s history, when the first RNZAF P3-K Orion landed in Antarctica.
The flight and subsequent landing on the Ice was the finale to nearly two years of planning, by both the RNZAF and external agencies.
The aircraft and thirteen crew from No. 5 Squadron and two observers from No. 40 Squadron were carrying out a trial flight to determine if they could safely operate from Antarctica.
Being able to operate from the Ice would provide support to the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). It could also have positive implications for Search and Rescue and Emergency Medical Evacuations from the region.
The aim of the Convention is to conserve the marine life of the Southern Ocean that surrounds Antarctica. Under CCAMLR the RNZAF already monitors fisheries in the Southern Ocean. The patrols aim to deter and detect illegal and unregulated fishing for toothfish. By operating from Antarctica a P3 and crew would potentially be able to extend their patrol time. “Pending the outcome of this trial flight future surveillance missions may operate from Antarctica on behalf of the Government of New Zealand with specific emphasis on meeting the CCAMLR surveillance, deterrence and enforcement requirements,” said ACC, Air Commodore Dick Newlands.
As in all military flying, the crew faced a number of risks with their historic flight to the ice. Throughout the planning phase, consider- able effort went into identifying all possible risks and from there mitigating them by the safest practice. Major risks included limited SAR coverage in the remote and frozen Continent and environmental effects caused by aircraft engine heating and melting the ice runway. Another significant issue was the logistic risk of having an unservice-
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Mount Erebus basking in the sunlight.
A No.5 Squadron crew member introduces himself to a Skua gull.