23 November 2009
Every pilot, me included, has often wondered the same thing. It usually happens when flying on one of those beautiful autumn days when you can see the end of world from the cockpit, and the sky is a deep blue.
What we wonder is this. Just how far could I go if I had the money to buy the fuel. How far could I go, if I got some extra tanks and it was just me, the plane and petrol!
Art Mortvedt has answered that question, and he about to answer it again next April.
Art flies the Polar Pumpkin. The modified Cessna 182 has a 300 horsepower engine and in 1999, Art took off from the Patriot Hills in Antractica. Six hours later with the temperature at -40C, he landed on the ice runway at the Amundsen Scott station. The South Pole.
Bottom of the world.
That and other adventures has earned him admission to the Explorers Club of New York City, and the Lowell Thomas travel writing award.
Art has kicked around the polar regions for much of his life. He did some teaching in Alaska, followed by science and flying at both ends of the Earth and I hear is cooking is really good. The polar regions are deep in his blood, and never far out of mind.
Having spent two weeks in the high Arctic, I have a deep understanding of why.
It’s a different world.
A beautiful world. The great white quiet it has been called.
A world where it’s very easy to die.
Some of the most important science on the planet is being done in the harsh environment of Antarctica. A normal summer day at the South Pole is -30C. When Art landed the Pumpkin at 90 degrees south, he was at 9,500 feet. The South Pole is on two miles of ice. That ice holds the history of our climate back well before the last ice age began and ended.
No one has flown a single engine plane and landed at both poles. It’s just not been done. Art is planning to do it next April.
This will be the most dangerous of the two poles. The ice sheet at the bottom of the world is mainly smooth near the pole. It’s much colder there and not melting. (at least at the pole).
The North Pole is in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. It’s usually coverd by ice a meter or two thick at least, but pressure ridges cause the ice to be anything but smooth. Open water has become common at the pole in the summertime now.
Art will make the attempt in April, a narrow window when the weather and temperature should be less extreme and the ice still frozen.
Why do it??
Because no one else has. For the most intelligent species that occupy the third rock from the sun, that’s the only reason that has ever really been necessary.
Good luck my friend and God speed.