14 Sep 2008

US Air Force makes successful Antarctic night flight

5:36 am on 14 September 2008

The United States' Antarctic programme made history on Friday when a US Air Force plane successfully completed the first night-vision landing at McMurdo Base, paving the way for year-round flights.

The C-17 Globemaster made an 11-hour round trip overnight, successfully landing in the dark using just reflective cones and night-vision goggles for guidance.

A snow storm nearly prevented the landing, but the Globemaster was able to touch down and then complete several other landings on the ice to ensure all the pilots on board gained experience.

The successful mission means scientists will be able to come and go from Antarctica during winter and therefore complete more research projects.

It also means winter medical evacuations can be carried out.

At present, flights to Antarctica end in February and resume in August.

Pilots have trained for 18 months in simulators for the night vision landing on the 10km runway at the US Antarctic research centre at McMurdo Station.