As the nomadic team of the Dry Valleys we had the most helo hours of any of the Long Term Ecological Research projects. The fact that many of our streams are on opposite ends of Taylor Valley, Wright Valley, and within the greater Dry Valley region meant that we had a lot of helicopter flights. I’ve been so spoiled.
The biggest helicopter available to scientific groups in Antarctica is the Bell 212, commonly called a ‘Huey’. These double-engined beasts are basically all-purpose flying pickup trucks. They’re used down here to transport as many as 8 passengers and huge amounts of equipment. The popular model during the Vietnam War, we generally only used these helos when flying with heavy loads of gear or with more than 3 passengers.
The AS350, or ‘A-Star’, is the model that we flew on most of the time. Built to accomodate 4 passengers and a lighter cargo weight, these zippy helos are my favourite to ride in. Large passenger windows, car seatbelts, quicker loading/unloading process, and a hell of a lot smoother ride makes the A-Star infinitely more comfortable.
At the beginning of the season I had never been in a helicopter before. Now, after a total of 43 hours in a helo, I’m well and truly addicted.
The other night I was talking about my love of flying to one of the helo mechanics. He replied: “Are you effing crazy? 40,000 moving parts all held together by one little pin. There’s no way I’m getting inside one of those.” It was like listening to a chef say he doesn’t eat his own cooking.
I’ll admit it. I’ve looked into getting a pilot’s license.