Wanaka Sun       

Wanaka choppers in Antarctica

Posted at 4:01am Thursday 22 Nov, 2018 | By Emma Conyngham newdesk@thewanakasun.co.nz


Over the last three weeks, Heli Support NZ has been in Antarctica, providing support to a German geological research project Ganovex.

The local company has provided two Squirrel AS350-B2 helicopters, two pilots and one engineer to Ganovex. The staff and machinery were flown to Antarctica at start of November on a Hercules aircraft that landed on an airstrip made of sea ice.

Heli Support was established two years ago as a specialist helicopter service for Antarctica. General manager Iain Miller was formerly the operations manager for the NZ Antarctic Programme, and pilot Lee Armstrong has been flying down there for a decade.

“It's a smaller offshoot of the main German project but it's in the Ross Sea which is why we got the job because it's closest to us,” Miller said.

“I moved to Wanaka a few years ago, then Lee moved here with the view to start the business. So our machines are based here and they do all the maintenance here and all specific Antarctic logistics. You can operate from anywhere but we chose Wanaka airfield,” he said.  

The team will be there until the end of January.

“It's a big commitment,” Miller said.

“Lee's had ten Christmases away from his three young kids, but that's the nature of the beast. Hamish Talbot, the other pilot, also has young kids.”

The challenges facing helicopter pilots in Antarctica are numerous and varied but so far one of the hardest challenges for pilot Lee Armstrong is never-ending boredom.

“Lee is camping in a tent at about 3000 feet. But the weather has been bad so they've been grounded for days and he has been stuck in a tent, all day every day in minus 20 degrees but 24-hour sunlight,” Miller said.

“The boredom and cold has been hard. But he has to work outside on the machines, keeping them warm.”

As if that wasn't bad enough, the team only get one shower a week.

MIller said they track the helicopters across the ice in live time from Wanaka, and provide logistic support to the team from the Wanaka Airfield through to the conclusion of the project.


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