Monthly Archives: October 2014

Flight Following

For the most part, my first week has been spent learning the BAS standard operating procedures and flight following phraseology.

The HF radios are the main means of communications with the aircraft.

HF radios in the tower
HF radios in the tower

Aircraft Departures

The first step in the communications process for the departure of an aircraft from Rothera International Airport is to check
that the appropriate stations are in place to provide fire cover, boat rescue cover, sea ice rescue and runway PAPI lighting checks.

The Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) provide the criteria and actions for all flight following procedures.
For an aircraft departing from Rothera we refer to the SOP to ascertain the SAR cover requirements for the flight taking into account the current conditions, the aircraft ferry weight and POB. Various internal calls on the base telephone or VHF ch1 are then made to check that appropriate, fire cover, boating SAR cover, and sea ice parties are in place to provide SAR cover for the flights take-off.

Once the aircraft is powered on the first call from the aircraft will be a request for radio checks on both VHF and the various HF frequencies that may be used throughout the flight. The radio check frequencies and readabilities are noted on the first entry in the flight following log for the flight.

The next call from the aircraft will be a request for the latest aviation weather reports. In this message we will pass the latest hourly weather from every airfield or field station en-route for both the planned flight and the alternative destinations. So for example for a direct flight from Rothera to Punta Arenas we would pass the latest weather for Rothera (EGAR), Redolfo Marsh (SCRM as alternative) and Punta (SCCI).

The next call from the aircraft will be the taxi call. This message will include the aircraft callsign, runway number, flight destination, POB and fuel endurance. We respond to this message by reading back all of the information and then passing the latest runway and area wind speeds and direction and the latest runway QNH (pressure) to the aircraft.
At this point we log all the details on the flight following log, turn on the runway siren, warning, lights and beacons and make an all stations announcement on VHF CH1 to announce the departure of the aircraft.

Once the aircraft has taxi-ed and lined up on the runway, the next call from the aircraft will be the callsign and rolling call. We simply acknowledge this call by reading back the callsign and replying with roger. As the wheels leave the runway we log the airborne time on the flight following logs. Once the aircraft levels off the pilot will call airborne. Once this call is received we respond by providing the airborne time from the FF log to aircraft. At this point we turn off the runway sirens lights and apron beacon.

I shall write further soon about:

  •  Position reports passed every 30 minutes during the flight
  • Hourly Meteorological Observation Reports from Airfields in the vicinity
  • Trailing Skis calls
  • Final and Circuit calls
  • Landing and Arrival calls
Dash 7 Air bridge flight arriving
Dash 7 Air bridge flight arriving

Induction Days

ajumpseatFlying into Rothera I was invited to take the jump-seat in the cockpit. This allowed me to listen into all the radio communications for the landing procedure.  As you might expect meteorology is the major topic of the aviation communication messages. On the runway we were met by the Base Commander who took us upto the main building, taught us the hygiene procedures in the boot/coat room, assigned us our bedrooms (top bunk, room 19), then took us to the dining room for late dinner. The first day was induction training.  The day started with a generous welcome from the base commander and an explanation of the base routines and systems.  Kenrick the Base Medic then gave us a base tour. The base feels surprisingly spacious, the rooms are large corridors are wide and there is lots of common social spaces. firstaidThe first day of induction training also ended with another session with Kendrick this time on First Aid and familiarisation with the first aid pack contents.  This was largely a walkthrough of the various levels of first aid kits use by field parties.  Kenrick sensibly spent the most time on the items that need to be administered rapidly.  Anaphylaxis shock requires a rapid IM  adrenalin injection so we all practiced this. And pneumothorax, is a collapsed lung.  If air escapes in the space between a collapsed lung and the chest wall,a buildup of air puts pressure on vital organs.  So again needs rapid treatment.

Field Training
Field Training

The second days induction training was field training (tents, stoves, lanterns) in the morning and vehicles driving (base skidoos and gaitors) in the afternoon.  The biggest safety risk to field parties in Antarctica is CO2 poisoning.  So a good part of this session focused on the safe use of stoves and lanterns.  After learning the basic skill, James took us up the ramp along the flagged recreation areas and explained the safety boundaries. base-snowcat The second part of the field training involved a tour of the travel zone boundaries. base-nick Tent pitching and snow camping were also covered in the field training.  We pitched this North Face tent but most of the field kits seem to be using Terra Nova Qasar Super edition tents.   These are fitted with addition flaps for snow weighting. Vehicle driving training was the final session. There are a few gaitors and skidoos on base that can be used for base work. Jack took us through pre-start checks, driving and fueling the vehicles. To check us he asked each of us to driving the skidoo up and down the the ski ramp opposite the base.

Gaitor Training
And Skidoo training
And Skidoo training

Flight to Punta Arenas

I am on the way….

BAS  provide a free mini bus from Cambridge to Heathrow and that would have been the ideal way to get to Heathrow.  But I am taking a huge bike with me too big for a mini bus, so we cycled to Cambridge train station, caught a train to Kings Cross, then followed the GPS to cycled 7km across London to Paddington, to catch the Heathrow Express. So  far five changes and not yet left the UK Cambridge>Stevenage>KingsCross>Cycle>HeathrowCentral>Terminal 5IMG_2005 IMG_2007 Bicycle included, I checked in more than 50kg of luggage, 22kg in the kitbag, 12kg in my luggage and 21kg for the touring bike.  They tagged the luggage all the way through to  Punta Arenas but told me I would need to collect and re-check it at Santiago for Chilean customs.  I paid £205 in excess baggage which was not  as much as I had expected.

50kg of luggage tagged through to Punta
50kg of luggage tagged through to Punta

Yes, this is a ridiculous amount of luggage, but in my own defence this is stuff not just for my stay in Antarctica but also full cycle camping touring kit for a post deployment tour in North America. A lot of this stuff I will leave in Punta Arenas while I am south. There were eleven of us from BAS in this group headed for Rothera, with Andy who is heading south to lead a traverse party ably leading our group.

Flight number 1 Heathrow to Madrid. Surprisingly good egg sandwich.
Flight number 2. 13 hours overnight Madrid to Santiago

The views over the Andes coming into Santiago made a great way to wake up.

Morning views of Aconcagua coming into Santiago

At Santiago I needed to collect all the 50kg bike and baggage and drag it through customs and re-check it for the domestic Punta Arenas flight.  I had been dreading this but I got loads of help from the super lovely people in our group.

We had about 4 hour at Santiago airport before boarding the flight to Punta at 1.00pm.  Even better views of the Andes and Lakes District on this flight.  The plane stopped and did some quick passenger changing Puerto Montt and I managed to nab a whole row if seats, so manage a short sleep.

Flight to Puerto Montt
Flight to Puerto Montt – Flight  3

At Punta the BAS agency staff from Agunsa gave us a friendly welcome met at Punta  airport. They  collected up all our passports and the important little carbon copy slip of paper Chile immigration had given us at Santiago to arrange the immigration exit stamps before the BAS Dash 7 flight tomorrow.  By 7.00pm we were at the hotel and by 8.00pm we were out for dinner.  Chile is on the same time zone as  Rothera GMT-3.

Pilgrim loves looking out the window ! Punta Arenas.
Pilgrim loves looking out the window ! Punta Arenas.
Punta Arenas
Punta Arenas


Had a great sleep in the comfy and quiet hotel in Punta.  All being well tomorrow we fly on to Antarctica on the BAS flight.

HF Radios

A few weeks ago Karen gave me a tour of the communications bench in the electronics workshop, so I got to see some of the HF radio equipment that I will be working with in the tower at Rothera.  This week I have been reading the operation manuals for some of HF radios used at Rothera.   I will receive further specific training on using the tower radios with the programmed channels when I arrive at the base. This week I am just learning the basic generic operations of the radios.

I am expecting the  HF radios in the tower at Rothera to be busy this summer.  They are used for flight-following operations, contacting  SkyBlu (SBR) and Fossil Bluff (KG) for meteorology reports, contacting field parties, tractor traverse teams and providing a SAR watch.

Meet the HF Skanti TRP 8250-S

The main HF radios in the tower are Skanti TRP 8250-S radios.  I really like the look of these radios.  The control panel layout is uncluttered, spacious and generous and both the TX and RX frequencies are always displayed.  Modern radio interface designers could look and learn.

Skanti TRP-8250S
Skanti TRP-8250S

I have been reading the 02_OPERATION.  I have found this video of the radio in operation useful and the guy is actual a bit of a comedian.

These radios will be used for flight following.  The approach sheet  for pilots using Rothera airfield provides the HF contact frequencies which are 5080KHz USB, 7775KHz USB and 9106KHz USB.  No doubt these frequencies will have been assigned fast recall numbers.

Meet the ICOM IC-78

This radio is used by SkyBlu and Fossil Bluff stations.  It is probably too high powered for field party use.  The ICOM IC-78 Instruction Manual, is an easy read,  the manual is delightfully well written and concise.


This radio has 99 channels to which commonly used frequencies can be assigned.  So the first thing I will want to do when I meet this radio is look through the channels to see what frequencies have been assigned to the channels on my new friend.

There a three ways to scroll through the channels,  rotating that large dial,  pressing the up or down arrow keys or typing channel numbers into the keypad.  But this won’t show me the assigned frequency as I scroll through I will only see the descriptive name assigned when the channel was programmed.   To see the frequency is assigned to each channel as I scroll through I can press the FC button to see the frequency and if it is duplex number pressing TXF will display the transmission frequency.

To get even better acquainted with the IC-78 in Rothera I will then probably want to look through the setup options that have been configured  on my friend.  To enter setup mode I will need to press setup, then use the arrow keys to scroll through options, then within an option the large dial could be used to change a setting.  So if I only touch the set button and arrow keys and be sure not to touch the dial then I can look through the setup configuration.

Meet the CODAN 2110

This radio is used by science field parties. It is a 25 watt field radio that can be carried in a manpack.

Runway Fire Training

This week has been fire training at Duxford airport.  Actually more like fireman training than fire training.

The morning of the first day was the classroom part of the course.  The focus was on dynamic  risk assessment and identifying situations that should not be approached.  The fabulous fire training team at Duxford had prepared a session specifically on the Dash 7 and Twin Otters which identified all the danger points on these specific aircraft.  Things like location of  hydraulic hoses, tyres and composite  materials which are dangerous in a fire. We learned the conditions under which these become dangerous and how to position yourself to avoid them.

Duxford Fire Training
Duxford Fire Training

Site selection for fire fighting was the next topic.  The position of the fire appliance should ideally be upwind, uphill from any liquid fuel sources and in view of the flight crew in the cockpit so that communications with the pilot are established.  All three will not always be possible.  Communication with the pilot being  the most important of the three.  Propellers and engines could be started  so the pilot needs to be are aware of the location of any actions by the fire team and they need a way to communicate there intentions to the fire team.




Hoses training
Hoses training

After being kitted out with our fire fighting gear we piled into the fire truck for a ride to lunch.  After lunch we learned how to use the various hoses and branches (nozzles).  This was surprisingly heavy and exhausting work.   I lost track of how many times we rolled, unrolled and extended the various hoses.



BA Training
BA Training

The second day started with Breathing Apertures (BA) training with the very likeable Neil. BA is very important piece of the fire-fighters kit, it means you can breath clean cool air.  We learned how to dress in buddy pairs, checking each other at each step.  The control board managed by a person in a yellow and black chequered vest is always used with BA to keep a record of times and pressures.  Once we were dresses we were paired up for a search and recovery exercise. With our face masks blacked out completely.  We learned to scan ahead with sweeps of our hands and feet before moving forward a step to systematically search a blackened room.



Fire Trucks
Fire Trucks

After lunch we fire-trucked over to the fire training ground on the far side of the runway.  Here we practised and re-practised our BA procedures and control board procedures. Then we entered a training container where Alan lit a small wood fire.  The container was fitted with temperature gauges at various heights to we could watch   the hot level descending from the roof downwards.



Under carriage simulation
Under carriage simulation

The third day was practical undercarriage fire-fighting practice on the Duxford simulation rigs.  By this time we were all getting good at getting into our BA kit and working in our buddy teams to support the hose.

At the end of this session we learnt how to lay a protective layer of foam onto a site after a fire has been extinguished.


The afternoon was a full blow accident simulation with us all playing our roles.  The training was fabulously hands-on and practical with a constant focus on safety and dynamic risk assessment.