After traveling 2,500 nautical miles (4,300 km) in just five hours from Cape Town, Hi-Fly’s A340-313 with 9H-SOL registration number made history as the first Airbus family of four to land in Antarctica.
According to company details, the aircraft will be used this season to carry a small number of tourists to the frozen continent, along with scientists and essential cargo.
The company celebrated this achievement in many ways, one of which was the sharing of a travel diary written by the company’s owner and pilot, Carlos Mirpuri (you can read it below). If a picture is worth a thousand words, allow a high-resolution video showing every aspect of this historical journey.
The video is available below (wait for loading).
Hi Fly 801/802 – November 2, 2021
The staff picked up and left the Cape Town Hotel at 5am local time. It took 30 minutes to get to the airport. The paperwork took another 30 minutes and we arrived at the airport at 6am, two hours before the scheduled departure time.
The engineers and ground operations staff left the hotel an hour ago, so by the time we got on the plane, the refueling was complete and the cargo was unloading. We were expecting 23 passengers and all customer service, and since this was the first flight of the season, most of the ground support equipment we needed at WFR (Wolfs Fang Runway, Antarctica) was in our cargo hold. The sole purpose of the first two voyages was to establish operations in Antarctica before the summer of 2021/2022.
The 2,500 nautical miles between CPT and WFR takes 5 hours and 10 meters on the way and 5 hours and 20 meters on the way back. Since this was the first flight, we planned a 3 hour stop at WFR due to limited ground support. It would be a long day for the crew, but the thrill of attending such a unique event was more than anything else.
As always, we begin with a briefing about our arrival on the plane. This is not just a flight, it’s a distant operation that we are going to carry out, the adverse atmosphere we are facing and the need to ensure that adequate protective clothing is available on board.
While cabin checking and catering was going on, my crew and I checked the aircraft, checked its systems, loaded the route into the navigation computers, and reported the details of our departure.
Passengers arrived 20 minutes before departure. When we left the gate the local time was exactly 8 p.m. Always accurate. This is the motto of Hi Fly.
We lined up on Runway 01, but had to stop for a moment before taking off; I spotted active birds on the track, asked the tower to turn the truck in charge of driving them, and eventually they got out of the way. The last thing we want is for a bird to damage the engine on any flight. At 8:19 we finally aired. Beautiful morning and beautiful views of Cape Town.
WFR has no fuel. We carry 77 tons of fuel to South Africa. 9H-SOL is an A340-313HGW (high gross weight) with a maximum take-off weight of 275 tons. It is a powerful, comfortable and safe aircraft that works well in this environment. Its 4-engine redundancy and long-range range make it an ideal aircraft for this type of mission.
The route to WFR was almost straightforward after complying with the Instrument Exit Procedure Permit issued by the Air Traffic Control in Cape Town. We were transferred to FIR Oceânica Johannesburg via CPDLC / ADS, thus avoiding the tiring and noisy long-distance HF communication of the 1950s. Digital communication is commonplace today in most areas of air navigation. We lost a data link connection 250 miles before WFR. But, about 180 miles from the destination, we were able to reach Wolfs Fang via VHF. This is not air traffic control, just a person with a portable radio monitoring the runway. Also, in fact, they take good care of your condition.
In the south, we return to polar navigation techniques, using the original title as a reference.
We use a chart to make sure things do not go wrong. Frequent weather reports from WFR that are transmitted to us through our operations in Lisbon, along the route we received via ACARS (another digital communication system).
WFR officials have an iridium satellite phone, the only way to communicate in that part of the world. Climate monitors do a great job, and we only affect Antarctica when the weather meets our needs. But one thing is for sure, when flying to the end of the world, you often need to make sure that it matches the prediction in real time.
The weather seemed fine, and as we approached our descent we also received reports of runway collisions. It is measured using a properly equipped car that travels the entire length of the track, taking measurements every 500 meters. The friction was higher than we thought it would be, so we started descending.
Carrying fuel to cover both routes means we will land with a maximum load of 190 tons. Adding to the fact that we operate from an airfield carved into the Blue Glacial ice, it is easy to see that the first landing of the Airbus A340 at that location attracted a lot of attention and concern. But in the main office, we were sure we had done our homework well.
Our operations department had been preparing for this flight for months, and the success of our first landing was proof that a job had been done well.
Two days before our flight there was even a visit to the WFR carrying scientists on a commercial flight of Captain Antonios Ftimio.
The blue ice rink is tough. It can support a heavy aircraft in it. Its depth is 1.4 km of free air ice. Most importantly, the cold is excellent. The grooves are carved along the track with special tools, and after cleaning and sculpting, an adequate breaking coefficient is obtained; Since the runway is 3000 meters long, landing and stopping an A340 aircraft that heavy at that airfield will not be a problem. An A340 has not yet landed on the blue iceberg, at least not on paper.
The reflection is huge, and the right glasses help to adjust your eyes between the external view and the device. The pilot who is not in command plays an important role in giving normal warnings, in addition to extras, especially in the final stages of the approach.
The runway is not easy to see, but sometimes we have to see it.
Eventually we got a glimpse of the runway layout, selected the flaps and landing gear 10 miles ahead of the runway for complete stability, and began to set ahead of time. There is no visual guide to the slope, and the combination of the track with the surrounding terrain and the vast white desert around it makes it difficult to estimate the height.
Cold weather altimeters also suffer from temperature errors and require adjustment. All this was taken into account. We took a smooth approach and the plane worked exactly as expected. When we got to the taxi speed we could hear an applause in the cab. We were happy. After all, we were writing history.
The idle time was much less than the expected 3 hours. Like our engineers, our flight and ground operations did a great job. A real winning team. Getting ready to face the extreme cold, we went outside, greeted people, and looked at the details and angles of the track for more confidence in the system. Everything looks great to start repetitive activities in and out of Antarctica.
The takeoff and return journey was random. The customer was happy and we were happy. All the objectives of this first flight were completed. The incident was recorded by our reporter Mark Bow.
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