February 18, 2013 Update:
A final airdrop was made over Belgrano II station on February 15, successfully completing the annual re-supply. Nine flights were made over a two week period, delivering roughly 166 tonnes of cargo. The project couldn’t have gone more smoothly, a testament to the hard work and capability of our operations, flight and ground crews. Congratulations and a big thanks to all who were involved.
Belgrano Station Re-Supply
There is nothing easy about Antarctic research and the only realistic way to do year-round science is to run a research station. But this is not an easy prospect. Some innovative thinking was required to re-supply the Argentine station Belgrano II, after their research ship and ice-breaker Almirante Irízar was damaged by fire.
Belgrano II station is located on the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf at the southern end of the Weddell Sea, thousands of miles from the nearest port and inaccessible by sea for all but a few weeks of the year. With the Almirante Irízar undergoing a major refit, the Ministerio de Defensa, República Argentina (Argentine Ministry of Defence), needed to review their re-supply methods. They analysed the rising costs for chartering a suitable ice-breaker and the risk of heavy sea ice in the Weddell Sea and decided that supply by airdrop would be a more secure and economical method.
ALE stepped in and, following a highly competitive tender, won the contract to exchange personnel and undertake a major airdrop. Our Ilyushin IL-76 is the perfect aircraft for this type of operation.
In January, the annual personnel rotation was flown by our Ilyushin aircraft from Ushuaia, Argentina, to Union Glacier, then on to Belgrano II by our ski aircraft. We flew 20 workers to the base and returned the 20 overwintering crew to Ushuaia.
During February we will air drop approximately 166 tonnes of food, fuel and equipment by IL-76, sufficient to resupply the station for another year. ALE has hired an expert crew from the Russian Rescue Centre in Moscow to carry out the contract with our IL-76. They have safely delivered many similar loads to the North Pole. The first two Belgrano flights were made on February 2nd and 3rd. All went as planned; the loads landed safely within the drop zone and were easily retrieved by the ground crew.
The air drop cargo is made up into one tonne loads, each on a platform with three chutes attached. The platforms are made up of with a 9.5 inch (240mm) thick protective layer of corrugated cardboard to absorb impact. All the platform materials are certified for Antarctic use.
The aircraft will make a total of nine, 3700 mile (6000 km) round-trip flights, each delivering about 17 tonnes of cargo. This system is well proven and an ALE ground crew, already on-site, will provide assistance and collect the loads and platforms. During the airdrop, ALE’s Union Glacier camp will remain open to provide back-up support and an alternate runway for the IL-76.
ALE Owner Mike Sharp says “This operation demonstrates our capability to deliver fuel and science equipment into Antarctica far from a runway but at a reasonable cost.” ALE is proud to be involved in making life a bit easier for the overwintering Argentine crew.