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Fri, Apr. 2nd, 2004, 10:52 pm
Part 4

Dispatches from the Ice-Year 2
Part 4

Hello All,

The thermometer seems to drop almost as fast as the receding sunshine. Old Sol peeks through the hills off to the north until late afternoon when it settles over the ice shelf. Its warmth cannot be felt as the ever-present winds cut through even the ripstop nylon fabric of our parkas necessitating another layer.

The last two weeks has not seen the temperature rise into +0F numbers and the lows range from –2F to –26F and wind chills from a –33F to –76F. Most of this period has been overcast and snowy as well. Just a taste of what’s coming I suppose.

Pegasus Airfield.

Winter tasking for Fleet Ops has begun on 26 March when the generator in the Smurf Shack (so called because it is purple/blue) was fired up. Shawn Walgren and myself went out to heat the 30KW generator with a Herman-Nelson heater. It took most of the day but finally the Detroit Diesel finally started and ran. We turned on the heaters in the shack and made sure the equipment, that has been frozen solid had its heaters plugged in so they will have a hope to start.

Fleet Ops keeps the snow from accumulating on the ice runway and pushes back snow that was cleared off the ice runway during the summer. I drove the length of the runway twice. I would guess snow is drifting a foot or so thick in places. This is the dense “styrosnow” that is blown and compacted by the wind. This is the type of snow you can drive over it, not crash through it. It causes quite a bump at 50 mph!

A truck may bounce off these drifts but the huge Caterpillar D8 bulldozers that Fleet Ops uses don’t even slow them down. Pushing snow for them is like brushing away mosquitoes for us. They have to be careful not to gouge the runway’s surface with their blades. Then they use snow blowers to propel the snow further back from the runway so a snow bank doesn’t form causing further drifting problems.

Power Plant Woes.

Our power plant here has had a run of bad luck lately. We have 6 900 kW diesel power generators powered by massive 16 cylinder, 1200 HP Caterpillar diesels. There are 3 running at all times, and they are cycled on and off line to balance the operating hours, and to allow for preventative maintenance to be performed. You cannot work on a running engine! The town needs 3 generators for it’s power requirements.

There are plans for new equipment to be delivered on next year’s vessel, but the crisis is now. The first engine, torn down last winter, sitting and waiting for parts (which came in on vessel this year), not being overhauled this summer, and not done yet. Another engine failed a month ago and is apart for an overhaul. A third engine lost a fuel pump on Tuesday morning and put us in the dark for 22 minutes, but the only reserve unit was switched on and all was well.

Before the third engine was finished, a fourth engine blew and swallowed a valve early Thursday morning and put the town in darkness for an hour and a half. Thank god it wasn’t windy, just cold! Most of us didn’t know of the outage until we woke up to flashing alarm clocks.

The fourth engine was restored to service Friday.

April 1st.

God, I do not remember so many April fools jokes from last year, running the gambit from ‘guess who’s pregnant’, to running out of fuel, food, to mail and freshies being airlifted in. Stand by!


April 2nd.

Friday morning. Rumors are flying regarding a medivac. Nobody seems to know anything about it first thing this morning, however an email went around at noontime informing the town of the flight, but no more details than that. There is a storm today, as it is windy and snowing across the region. It is a condition 2 in town and a condition 1 on the ice.

At 2 PM there was a meeting in the Heavy Shop with more details and a plan to provide people to support Fleet Ops and other departments to get Pegasus up and running.

Right now Pegasus is only a barren strip of bulldozed ice 10,000 feet long and 300 feet wide. The lights and markers are still in place but have to be reconnected and checked. Halfway down the runway is where the Smurf Shack is. There are only a dozen utility poles where the buildings go at the end of Pegasus Road, the flagged route across the ice from McMurdo Station.

· Fleet Ops has to drag all the buildings into position.
· Heavy Shop (us) has to get the generators running again after being drained and winterized until August for WinFly.
· Line Crew has to wire the power service to all the buildings.
· Electricians have to get each building operational.
· AGE (Airways and Ground Equipment) has to get aircraft support equipment in place for the flight.
· ATS (Aviation Technical Services) gets the weather station up and running and also TACAN (Tower Area Control And Navigation) for communications with the aircraft and aeronautical beacons.
· Fuels is running back and forth to town pumping JP-8 into the equipment and filling the tank for each buildings heating system.
· Furnace technicians has to get furnaces working.

These are only the personnel I heard listening Saturday to the Operations network on Channel 10 on the 2-way radio system. There may be others. This was supposed to be a 2-day weekend, but here I am at home typing away and listening to the radio. I have to work tomorrow, Sunday April 4, 2004 probably out at Pegasus too. And the weather is not good.

The patient, whose name has not been disclosed, has been diagnosed with severe dehydration, to the point where he cannot eat or drink anything without losing it. He is being fed through a tube, and is under constant care in medical. A decision was made Friday morning to medivac him out.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules is flying down on Tuesday April 6th to pick up the patient, and drop off freshies and flat mail.

Watch the news. These things usually make the news.

Ernie Gray
McMurdo Station, Antarctica