(By Correne Coetzer) Very low visibility and freezing fog ground the Polar Pumpkin at Eureka Weather Station in the far north of Canada. This is an extremely dangerous weather condition for the Pumpkin, says pilot Art Mortvedt, since the Cessna has no de-icing capabilities. If the aircraft ices up, getting heavier, and descends in whiteout conditions into the rough pack ice, one can only expect a crashed airplane.
But, says Mortvedt, after living and working in the Arctic and Antarctic these many years, he realizes how important the virtue of patience is.
Ulukhaktok and the virtue of patience
From Inuvik, Canada, Art flew to Ulukhaktok where he arrived on April 10. Ulukhaktok is a village of approximately 500 folks - mostly Inuvialut, he explains. The hamlet has two stores "The Northern" and "The Coop" - both outfitted with a myriad of clothes and equipment required in a sometimes harsh northern climate. There are two church buildings, the community center, school, and a shop selling artisan wares. Ulukhaktok is famous for its art prints, and carvings made from muskox horn and other local materials.
He and the Polar Pumpkin were grounded there by bad weather, either on route to his next destination, Resolute Bay, or at the village. On April 15, winds at 6,000 feet between the two towns were forecast to be northerly at 56 knots.
On April 18 he relocated the Polar Pumpkin to a new parking spot at the Ulukhaktok airport; a spot prone to less drifting with the forecast increasing east wind. By later in the evening a low-pressure system, with poor visibilities and light snow, had arrived Ulukhaktok.
He added, After living and working in the Arctic and Antarctic these many years, I realize how important is the virtue of patience. But . . . if I didn't admit a frustration with this continued inclement weather, that delays Polar Flight 90, I wouldn't be totally honest.
On April 19 Art woke up to very poor visibility, high winds, and drifting snow. He went out to the airport to check on the tie down security of the Pumpkin. All was fine. I also collected a few water containers from inside the cockpit that I wanted to keep from freezing and bursting.
Ulukhaktok to Resolute Bay
On April 20 Art was able to fly to Resolute Bay. He explained about getting ready for the 469 nm flight: It always takes a bit of time to get the tie down ropes folded up, wing covers taken off and folded, and equipment positioned inside the fairly crowded cockpit - such that the important items are easily accessible - e.g. the pee bottle, especially important on long flights.
Since I would be flying over 469 nautical miles of uninhabited country, I thought it a good idea to see what cabins - if any - might be available, in case I had a problem. Polar bear hunters had recently returned to Ulukhaktok from Winniatt Bay - with a polar bear - so I phoned one of these hunters to get the location of their cabin. I explained that I would use the cabin only in an emergency.
I was given the location of the cabin, at the south end of a particular lake. One thing that I realized, as I flew by that lake, is the importance of getting latitude/longitude coordinates as well; since the land and water blend into one complete blanket of whiteness with very little contrast between the two.
He says whenever he is flying an airplane on skis, he is always routinely looking for a flat spot that is not badly drifted, in case he has to land. Though there were very few such places as he flew along to Resolute.
Resolute Bay to Eureka Weather Station
At times the Polar Pumpkin was in the clouds with nearly no ground contact, writes Art in his blog on April 22. He is fine with this, he says, when he knows that there are not any higher mountains in the area. But as he approached the southern end of Axel Heiberg Island, and knowing that there were some 5,000 to 6,000 foot peaks not so far away, he climbed up higher.
After checking with North Bay Radio - and getting a current weather report from Eureka (40 miles visibility and high clouds) - I proceeded on. As I flew up Eureka Sound, the views were awesome. Icebergs stuck in the sound, rugged cliffs, deep gullies, and all windswept. Not so long ago, the region had winds in the 100 mph range.
Art phoned Victor Boyarsky at Ice Station Barneo to ask about the weather there; according to Barneos update on April 23, the drifting Ice Camp was located 44.3 km from the North Pole.
Art continues, Ken, a trained meteorologist here, had already shown me satellite photos of the Pole vicinity - indicating low ceilings, mist, freezing fog, and whiteout conditions. Victor confirmed this weather, with an added report of visibility down to about 500 yards. At least one of their Antanov 74 flights from Longyearbyen, Svalbard had been canceled.
Out of concern - and maybe a bit out of habit - I went up to the airport to check on the Polar Pumpkin. The aircraft was fine; but the wind had picked up a bit. So I positioned two fuel drums under the wings as tie downs in case the wind picked up even further.
Graphic Area Forecasts
Art explains about Graphic Area Forecasts (GFAs) produced by NAVCANADA. These are excellent overviews of pressure systems and weather forecasts. Unfortunately a low pressure system has formed over Northern Greenland [April 23]; and is tracking to the southwest - to position bad weather along the northwest coast of Ellesmere Island.
This, along with the poor weather at the Pole, make flying the Pumpkin North impossible at this time. A warm air mass has moved in behind the Pole, on the Russian side, bringing the bad visibilities and precipitation.
On some GFAs, it was mentioned that I could expect visibilities down to Ѕ mile with freezing fog. This is an extremely dangerous weather condition for the Pumpkin; since it has no de-icing capabilities. If the aircraft ices up, getting heavier, and descends in whiteout conditions into the rough pack ice, one can only expect a crashed airplane, and probably a dead pilot, according to polar pilot Art Mortvedt.
For many years the orange Cessna 185, known as the Polar Pumpkin, was a prominent feature on the snow at Patriot Hills on Antarctica. Pilot Art Mortvedts mission is to land the same single engine Cessna 185, N90SN, at both Poles. They landed at the South Pole on November 22, 1999 and is now heading towards the North Pole (90°N). Art and the Polar Pumpkin left Fairbanks, Alaska on April 3.
This single engine Cessna 185 (Polar Pumpkin) registration number, N90SN, stands for north 90 degrees, south to north. Art picked this registration number when he bought the plane.
According to Mortvedt, the Polar Pumpkin will become a flying laboratory as he flies across the Arctic Ocean. One of the primary instruments that I will be carrying is a Hyperspectral Imager, owned by NASA. After I returned from Russia, Mr. Joe Casas from Marshall Space Flight Center and Mr. Ken Copenhaver from the University of Illinois came to Alaska for the installation of the hyperspectral imager. With the help of my excellent mechanics, we completed the installation quickly; and then proceeded to do test flights. The instrument worked well; and, over the course of the Spring, I continued the testing, flying at varied altitudes and conditions. Another instrument that will be on board the Pumpkin is a Sun Photometer, also owned by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
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