Antarctic Flying and Whiteout Navigation

Navigating in whiteout conditions while hiking, climbing, or skiing can be unnerving. But consider how airplane pilots in Antarctica must feel when they’ve got a planeload full of scientists or contract workers about to land on the Ross Ice Shelf near McMurdo Station:


One second, you’ve got a little break in visibility, and then you get socked in again:


And then you finally touch down in a clear patch and see that–luckily–there aren’t any cargo loaders or makeshift airport structures or people standing around.


Antarctica can be a dangerous place for aircraft, and in my four trips to and from McMurdo Station, I gained respect for the pilots and navigators who make successful flights in and out of this place and all over the continent each season.

I spent some time exploring the airstrip near McMurdo one day on which bad weather conditions kept the planes grounded:

airfield tower

This beautiful Basler…


…and a Twin Otter:

twin otter

I felt amazed each of the four times I watched a tiny aircraft drop from the clouds and then land on the ice shelf to pick me up when the season was over…


…and just as I always felt the thrill of landing on the ice shelf in Antarctica, I always felt the excitement of leaving to pursue the next great adventure.


So, you’re not a pilot flying in Antarctica?
But you’ll still want to know about some tools that can help you navigate in whiteout conditions.

See my article on the Survival Skills website:
“Whiteout Navigation: Essential Tools”
Navigating in whiteout conditions can be challenging and frightening. A whiteout occurs when conditions such as snow, fog, or sand cause a partial or total reduction in visibility. In a blizzard, snow may already be present on the ground, so when snow begins to fall from the sky, the horizon can disappear completely, causing great difficulty for a person trying to navigate through unknown terrainclick here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s