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:

landing1

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

landing2

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.

landing3

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…

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…

leaving1

…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.

leaving2

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

See my article on the About.com 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.

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