Saturday, 23 July 2011

Enroute to Greenland: Travelling From The US

We are at the first joint US-EISCAT International Incoherent Scatter Radar Workshop in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. The US/Canadian contingent includes nearly 30 students, 7 instructors/staff, and National Science Foundation sponsors. With such a unusual group, we took a special route to get here, courtesy of the US NY State 109th Air National Guard. The school's program staff arranged for a dedicated flight from Scotia, NY (about 12 miles west of Albany in upstate NY) on a military C-130 aircraft. Our flight was listed as "Kelly Ville - 50" for our eventual destination and the number of passengers. The National Guard are experienced Arctic/Antarctic fliers who make regular trips to both poles, and Greenland has been part of their mission for decades. We were lucky enough to hitch a ride so to speak.

Unlike flying on a commercial aircraft, the C-130 "Hercules" experience is both more exciting and more basic. As the heavy lifting plane is used for serious work, there is almost no sound deadening, requiring the judicious use of ear plugs and also noise cancelling headphones if you want to be reasonably comfortable. Routine events like the extension of flaps and lowering of landing gear make interesting sounds which can be somewhat disconcerting for those experiencing the trip for the first time, a quality shared by many of our school attendees (including myself).

The seats are simple red webbed affairs on hanging assemblies on both the outer walls of the plane. Under normal circumstances, fliers share the space with cargo secured in large pallets. Since we were such a large contingent, however, the vast majority of the C-130's load this time consisted of the passengers and our bags, duly bound up near the rear of the plane.

On this flight, you don't want to pack much of a carry-on, as you will have to suffer with it under your feet or poking into your back for the 6+ hour flight. (The C-130 has propellers which fly slower than a jet, but its four engines make it very reliable.) Given that our knees were nearly touching, there wasn't much of a center aisle as you can see in the photos, and so walking around in the aircraft required a great deal of care and maneuvering to avoid stepping on your fellow traveller.

Our Guard airmen made the flight a smooth one, and students and staff alike were thrilled to begin their 'radar week' in a memorable fashion.

Text and photos: Phil Erickson.

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