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Freeze Frame Scott Polar Research Institute

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Air Transport

The advent of air transport at the poles brought a whole new way of looking and exploring the regions. Aircraft allowed reconnaissance missions and aerial photography, permitting a virtual exploration of the land. For example, the British Graham Land Expedition (1934-37) proved that Graham Land is a peninsula connected to Antarctica, correcting earlier supposition that it was an archipelago. Planes have revolutionised polar exploration. Today, supplies for expeditions can be flown in, and quickly moved around the area by plane, instead of by surface transportation.

Planes have primarily been used as a form of support transport. For example, on the British Graham Land Expedition (1934-37), planes were used to establish sketch maps which could be used on sledging trips. Their plane was only a single engine machine (they could not afford a double engine) and the carriage was made of wood. A wooden frame had been preferable as wood is easier to repair in such cold conditions, compared to metal.

The British Arctic Air Route Expedition (1930-31) also used aeroplanes in their exploration of the Arctic, taking two De Havilland Moths to be used for aerial surveying. The aim of the expedition was to investigate the possibility of an air route between Britain and Canada across the Arctic, if possible this would avoid a long and dangerous crossing over the sea. They surveyed the area and whenever possible accompanied this with aerial photography. When the news that Augustine Courtauld was snowed in at the ice-cap station was released by the media in the UK, a high-powered aircraft was sent to facilitate his rescue. In fact, no rescue had been necessary; Courtauld had intentionally wintered at the ice cap. Whilst the expedition had hoped to relieve him earlier, he did have just sufficient food to last. Expedition leader Gino Watkins congratulated the pilot on a successful flight, but was of the opinion that the attempted rescue was never necessary and considered Courtauld’s situation very routine, as did Courtauld. However the aircraft was useful in testing out a proposed air route to Canada. The air route never did come to fruition; but the exploration of its possibilities increased our knowledge of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland.

The United States Navy Antarctic Expeditions (Deep Freeze) began in 1955 and were large-scale operations and used many planes of different types. One of the key things the planes were used for in the 1955-56 Deep Freeze operation was reconnaissance for the future establishment of a permanent base at the South Pole. There had been concern that the snow would be too soft for a permanent base. The flights over the South Pole confirmed that this was not the case and that a base would be possible.

The use of planes on the Deep Freeze operations was not without trouble. One of their planes crashed in freezing rains and strong headwinds. The seven men on board stayed close to the plane for two days. They managed to shelter all of the men by digging a hole under the plane for four of them, with the other 3 in the plane’s cabin. Three days after the crash, they established that they were 110 miles away from base and decided to walk back. On the seventh day one of the search flights spotted the wreckage but found the men gone. The pilot spotted the men’s tracks and followed them for forty-five miles; the men were rescued by aircraft and returned to the Little America base. In total, the Deep Freeze 1955-56 operation lost five aircraft, but there was no loss of life as a product of an air crash.

During FiennesTransglobe expedition, planes were used to support the crossings of both the Antarctic and Arctic, although the expedition itself would be the first to circumnavigate the globe on its polar axis entirely by surface transport. Equipment and stores could be transported along the routes Fiennes would take, and the planes were used to survey possible routes. The planes were the only form of support for the ground team in the Antarctic. In addition, the planes were also used to ferry members of the team from the base camps to the North and South Poles to meet the men as they reached these targets; in this way, Bothie the dog became the first dog to reach both the North and South Poles.
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