Thursday, December 13, 2007
An Inconvenient Runway
This sort of article really brings into focus the genius and folly that is humankind:
A passenger jet has made a historic landing on a new blue ice runway in Australia’s Antarctic territory and regular flights are expected to start within a week, officials said yesterday.
But trips on the Airbus A319 to the Wilkins Runway will be for scientists and research staff only, with no plans to open the airlink to tourists, project manager Charlton Clark told AFP.
The runway is 4km long, 700m thick and moves about 12m southwest a year because of glacial drift.
In the first trial landing on Monday, the plane pulled up within 1,000m despite the lack of friction to grab the wheels on the ice.
Clark said work had begun on the A$10mn (US$8.7mn) runway 70km from Australia’s Casey research station in 2005, with crews living in shipping containers.
"Just living in that environment, with conditions of minus 35 degrees and up to a hundred knots of wind, let alone doing the work, was an amazing undertaking," he said.
Using laser levelling technology, they graded and shaved the ice flat and must keep grooming it to keep it snow free.
The runway was named for the adventurer and aviator Sir Hubert Wilkins, who made the first flight in Antarctica 79 years ago.
In just 80 years, we've gone from first flight to a mile-long, laser-levelled commercial jet runway. And really, what better way to study the icecap than to encourage the very activities that are melting it?