It was the day after my arrival in Christchurch, New Zealand, and I headed into the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) to try on my extreme cold weather gear. When I walked in, I found a group of people staring intently at a sheet of paper on the wall. Curious, I joined them and tried to find out what was going on.

The paper was the passenger manifest list. It showed that there were about 20 of us going to the ice the next day. But people wanted to know another piece of information. "What kind of plane we flying?" I heard someone ask. "A C-141," another person answered. "Alriiight!" exclaimed a third.


The U.S. Airforce flies passengers to McMurdo Station mainly on two different kinds of planes - C-141 Starlifters and C-130 Hercules or Hercs. (The C stands for cargo.) The C-141s are bigger, have jet engines, and get to McMurdo in five hours. The LC-130s are smaller, have propellers, and take eight.

After a however-many-hour-flight from your home to Los Angeles, a 12 ½ hour flight from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand, and a one hour flight from Auckland to Christchurch on New Zealand's south island, the last thing most people want to do is spend an extra three hours on a plane - especially if there's a distinct possibility that mechanical problems or bad weather in McMurdo might cause the plane to boomerang and head back to New Zealand, as is too often the case on Antarctic flights.


The kind of plane you ride depends on the time of year, which influences the condition of McMurdo Station's three runways. The first flights into Antarctica after the winter occur in late August and are known as the
winter fly-in or WINFLY. These flights make use of the Pegasus White Ice Runway.

Pegasus is about 18 miles from McMurdo and is situated on 110-feet thick ice on the McMurdo ice shelf. The ice is covered with three to four inches of compacted snow and hence is known as white ice. Glaciologist Dr. Andrew Fountain of Portland State University explains that an ice shelf is the part of a "glacier on land that has flown out over the ocean." He thinks of it as "a floating glacier."

Main Terminal at the Pegasus Field International Airport