Written by Staff Writer
Specialists at the Blundell Arm research station on the southern continent of Antarctica have launched the first one-take flight from the planet’s coldest and most forbidding territory.
Named Puffin, the Airbus A340-300 flown by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) is a specialist airship with a unique aeronautical facility for the study of conditions in the Antarctic, including extreme temperature changes and isolation, where the average surface temperature ranges from minus 37 degrees to plus 55 degrees.
During the flight, the Airbus instrument suite will be manipulated to assess performance in conditions of extreme cold and light.
Puffin, the longest-range Airbus A340-300 airship in the world, took off from Adelaide at about 4 a.m. on December 22 and will spend six days above the South Pole.
To meet the challenge of the Coldest Place on Earth, Puffin flew completely vertically, making only a few stops along the way. It will never have descended from the altitude of about 48,000 feet, making this first take-off from Antarctica the most extreme flight of the A340’s 20-year service life.
“It’s taken us 15 years to get to this point,” said Professor Alan MacDonald, head of aeronautics for QinetiQ Australia, the prime contractor for the A340 at QinetiQ Australia.
“The turnarounds at our tiny offices in the Adelaide suburb of Roseworthy are a lot more challenging than they would seem.”