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Airbus 340 aircraft lands in Antarctica for the first time in its history

It’s almost the end of 2021 CE, so you’d expect humanity as a whole to have, you know, conquered the planet by now. But even with today’s high-tech transportation options, there are still places that challenge exploration – and it’s probably no surprise that a few of them are in the arid continent and alien from Antarctica.

Today, for the first time in history, an Airbus 340 landed in Antarctica. This type of aircraft, which made its first flight over three decades ago, was “carefully chosen to perform well in this extreme environment,” according to Hi Fly, the boutique aviation company that performed the flight – and after this successful landing, the company says it hopes to open the trip to tourists in the near future.

Image credit: Marc Bow / Hi Fly

“This [was] not just another flight, ”said Captain Carlos Mirpuri, who flew the plane and is also vice president of Hi Fly. “[T]Here are the specifics related to this very distant operation that we would be conducting, the difficult environment we would be faced with and the need to ensure that appropriate protective clothing would be on board.

The plane departed Cape Town on November 2 and arrived 2,500 nautical miles in Antarctica just over five hours later. The flight was ordered to deliver supplies by Wolf’s Fang, an upscale adventure resort for people who wish to experience inhuman cold levels while on vacation.

As you might expect, the flight came with some challenges. The “runway” was an expanse of blue ice 3,000 meters long, and Mirpuri wrote in her diary that “the reflection is enormous… proper glasses help you adjust your eyes between outside sight and instrumentation.”

“It’s not easy to spot the trail,” he added, “but at some point we have to see it, because there is absolutely no navigation aids in it. [Wolf’s Fang Runway, where they landed] … At about 20 miles we should be in eye contact.

Technically, Wolf’s Fang Runway isn’t even an airport at all: it’s designated as a Level C airport, meaning only specialized crews are allowed to fly there. The plane could only brake on the ice thanks to “grooves … dug along the runway by special equipment,” said Mirpuri. The crew had to contend with the aircraft’s navigation equipment, such as altimeters compromised by extreme cold, and even visual height estimates were difficult, with Antarctica being almost uniformly white and icy.

But despite all of this, the flight was a success – “a manual approach to an uneventful landing,” as Mirpuri wrote in the captain’s diary. Praising the “real winning team” behind the operation, he confirmed that “all the objectives of this first flight have been achieved”.

While the first recorded flight to Antarctica took place in 1928 – in a Lockheed Vega 1 monoplane, piloted by Australian military pilot and explorer George Hubert Wilkins – it was not until 2019 that a widebody aircraft as the Airbus 340 reached the continent. Yet as tourism to the Grand Sud Blanc continues to increase – for better or for worse – this month’s historic flight sets an important precedent for companies like White Fang hoping to host a more extremophile clientele.

“When we hit taxi speed, I could hear a round of applause from the cab,” Mirpuri wrote. “We were happy. After all, we were making history.


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