Air Transportation: May 4, 2002


The US military has opened the first year-round runway on Antarctica, paving the way for more efficient exploration of the continent. During the "summer" season, only the National Guard's LC-130s (C-130s equipped with skis) could land in Antarctica, setting down on a huge open field at McMurdo. But now, a new runway has been opened at Pegasus Field. This runway has been there for some time, but during summer it is closed because the military piles snow on it to protect it from the constant sunlight. After intense engineering efforts, the military has covered this runway with three inches of "white ice" (compacted snow). This layer of ice protects the runway from the summer sun but is strong enough to support even C-17s, C-141s, and C-5As. These huge aircraft can deliver more cargo in less time than the sturdy but lumbering C-130s, which can now be used to ferry scientists all over the continent instead of just to bring supplies into McMurdo.--Stephen V Cole


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