It’s nearly the end of the year 2021 CE, so you’d expect that humanity as a whole would have, you know, conquered the planet by now. But even with today’s high-tech transport options, there are still some places that defy exploration – and it’s probably no surprise that a few of them can be found in the barren, alien continent of Antarctica.
Now, for the first time in history, an Airbus 340 has landed in Antarctica. This kind of plane, which made its first flight more than three decades ago, was “carefully chosen to perform well in this extreme environment,” according to Hi Fly, the boutique aviation company that made the flight – and after this successful touchdown, the company say they hope to open the journey up to tourists in the near future.
“This [was] not just another flight,” explained Captain Carlos Mirpuri, who piloted the plane and is also vice president of Hi Fly. “[T]here are specificities related to this very remote operation we would be conducting, the harsh environment we would face, and the need to ensure proper protective clothing would be on board.”
The plane set off from Cape Town on November 2 and arrived 2500 nautical miles away in Antarctica just over five hours later. The flight was commissioned to deliver supplies by Wolf’s Fang, an upscale adventure resort for people who want to experience just inhuman levels of cold during their vacation time.
As you may expect, the flight came with quite a few challenges. The “runway” was a 3000 meter long stretch of blue glacial ice, and Mirpuri wrote in his log that “the reflection is tremendous … proper eyewear helps you adjust your eyes between the outside view and the instrumentation.”
“It is not easy to spot the runway,” he added, “but at one point we have to see it, as absolutely no navigation aids exist in [Wolf’s Fang Runway, where they landed] … from around 20 miles we must be in visual contact.”
Technically, Wolf’s Fang Runway isn’t even an airport at all: it’s designated as a C level airport, which means only specialist crews are allowed to fly there. The plane was able to brake on the ice only thanks to “grooving … carved along the runway by special equipment,” explained Mirpuri. The crew had to cope with the plane’s navigational equipment like altimeters being compromised by the extreme cold, and even visual height estimates were difficult, what with Antarctica being almost uniformly white and icy.
But despite all this, the flight was a success – “a textbook approach to an uneventful landing,” as Mirpuri wrote in the Captain’s log. Praising the “true winning team” behind the operation, he confirmed that “all goals for this first flight had been met.”
While the first recorded flight to Antarctica was in 1928 – in a Lockheed Vega 1 monoplane, piloted by Australian military pilot and explorer George Hubert Wilkins – it wasn’t until 2019 that a wide-body plane like the Airbus 340 made it to the continent. Still, as tourism to the Great White South continues to increase – for better or for worse – this month’s history-making flight sets an important precedent for companies like White Fang hoping to welcome more extremophile clientele.
“When we reached taxi speed I could hear a round of applause from the cabin,” wrote Mirpuri. “We were joyful. After all, we were writing history.”