Russian Fuel Airdrop!

file photo of IL-76 landing at NOVO

Once upon a time, the American military was the only organization that could support large-scale flight and airdrop operations on the Antarctic Plateau...well, that time has passed. On 21 November 2010 a chartered Russian Ilyushin-76D airdropped a massive quantity of fuel at a drop site 14 miles northwest of the station.

Actually there was not a lot of news out there about this event, despite the fact that it presaged a major shift in support of South Pole area international NGO visits as well as science support. What we do know is this: on 21 November an IL-76 headed south from Novo (Novolazarevskaya, 7047'S, 1149'E) with 26 parachute loads of fuel drums to be airdropped in support of "smaller airplanes Russian scientists use to travel to the South Pole from the Vostok and Novolazarevskaya bases..." (quote from this RT news article). And we know that there WAS a massive airdrop, and the collection and stacking of the fuel drums was performed by support members of the Indian scientific expedition that had driven to Pole from Novo (my coverage of that event and one of the blog entries about the fuel depot work). Each of the 26 parachute loads weighed 2650 pounds, which corresponds to about 6 55-gallon drums (330 gallons) each or a total of about 8600 gallons, presumably of Jet-A fuel. And another airdrop had been scheduled for the 23rd (!).

The flight mileage numbers don't add up, the rt.com news article referenced above states that the aircraft flew 7000 km or 4350 statute miles...which is about twice the round-trip distance from Novo to Pole. So perhaps they did two trips, and/or they went somewhere else as well. ALCI DOES have other fuel depots on the plateau, including the one established at 83S in November 2009.

Since I'm the SP historian, I must mention a bit of historical perspective. In the 1959-60 summer the Russians completed a traverse to Pole...and that created a bit of consternation in the US Antarctic program, since the resupply of Pole and Byrd had not been going very well, and there was concern that these bases might be abandoned...and leave them open to the Russians. So the Air Force was mobilized on short notice to bring their ski-equipped LC-130's to the ice to resupply the inland stations. Remember, this was the cold war. But nowadays things are different, the cold war is over, science is massive, and tourists want to visit the dome, er, the Pole.

The IL-76 photo at the top of this page is a file photo from the TAC (The Antarctic Company) web site. TAC, as well as ALCI (Antarctic Logistics Center International) are subsidiaries of the St. Petersburg (Russia) company INTAARI, they operate national program support and NGO flights to and out of Novo. This is breaking news, but I haven't seen much more news than what you see on this page, so if you know anything, please pass it my way!