Repairing a Plane in Antarctica

One of our tipsters just sent us in an amazing story about repairing a plane in Antarctica — and flying it home!

On December 20, 2012 a Basler BT-67 Turbo 67 (DC-3T) — named Lidia — went down in Antarctica. Thankfully out of its 15 passengers there were no fatalities. For full details on the crash you can check out the accident description on the Aviation Safety Network.

Lidia was built back in the 1940’s, with its wings apparently put together by Rosie the Riveter herself in 1943. Its virgin flight was in 1944. Today, it is operate(d) as a tour plane, and before the accident it was conducting a tour of the Holtanna Glacier in Antarctica.

The plane sat in the snow for almost a year, before a team came back to repair it and bring it home. The expedition lasted two months, and they brought with them two new engines, a new cockpit, landing gear, and fuselage repair supplies. They’ve shared an incredible slideshow of photos that are available on Facebook, or you can stick around after the break to watch a video slideshow of the process.

Can you even begin to imagine repairing a car in Antarctica conditions — let alone a freaking airplane?

[Thanks Vasco!]

39 thoughts on “Repairing a Plane in Antarctica

    1. I’m sure it was meant to indicate female plane builders in general. At least, that’s the way I took it. But then, I don’t take everything literally; I read enough to understand that hyperbole can be used in a positive way, as in the above summary.

    2. She was a real person who worked as a riveter in WW2 and was exclusively used for publicity to show how women could also the war effort by working in factories whilst the men went off to war. There a quite a few old videos on her you could probably find in Google.

  1. There is an excellent but heart breaking documentary about a team that attempted to recover a WWII plane at one pole or another only to lose a member of the team to illness and the plane itself to an onboard fire.
    The conditions are so unforgiving that it really is an incredible task.

  2. Maybe I’m just lazy, but wouldn’t it have been cheaper and easer to just go down and pick up the pieces and bring them back, then fix it in a nice warm hangar somewhere?

    1. The only thing big enough they could have flow in was a ski equipped LC-130, and the USAF wouldn’t dare risk landing one of those without checking for crevasses, and then have a crew of 3-4 people spending 2 weeks to groom a runway. The baslers and twin otters are designed for short landings with heavy cargo loads on ungroomed snow. I had the opportunity to ride in the Antarctic Baslers for a couple seasons between 2006 to 2008. Absolutely luxurious compared to a twin otter. Actually, our 2007 Antarctic season was abruptly ended when the Basler crashed (they fixed that one up in the 2008 season). Our pickup flight was the previous flight before the crash, so we were real glad we weren’t the ones on the plane when it went down.

      1. I do not think a single LC-130 could not fly it out. It might not be possible to remove the center section of the wing of the DC-3 “actually C-47″ in those conditions. I don’t think the C-130 could actually fit the fuselage both wing panels and the center section. I am not sure that the C-130 could even fit the fuselage since it is almost 70 ft long and the 130 is only 98 and that includes the cockpit, radome, and tail and not just the cargo hold.

    2. No.
      You would need a large cargo plane like a C-17 or possibly a C-5. While you could possibly get a C-17 down there a C-5 is out of the question.
      Second you would need to take the plane apart. I am not sure Where the easy way to place to detach the wings on the DC-3 is but I am pretty sure that it is outside of the engines. It is probably a massive project to remove the center section so even a C-5 might not be a practical option.
      So it would be just about as much work to take the plane apart enough to put in a plane as to get it into flying condition.
      And this is a stinking DC-3 those babies fly. The Chinese during WWII flew a DC-3 with one DC-3 wing panel and on DC-2 wing panel. http://www.cnac.org/price007.jpg
      I think that the DC-3 might just be the the first aircraft to be in commercial service for 100 years.

      1. Looking at the pictures there’s one of an Il-76 and they can carry a fair old load. I doubt you could fit a DC-3 in one though.

  3. Just like a normal winter day for the USAF aircraft maintainers that were stationed at Grand Forks AFB, ND and the ones that are stationed at Minot AFB, ND.

    Actually it looked warm in the first pics before the break because one of the guys had his hoodie down, not to mention you can see their faces because they are uncovered.

      1. Uh no…. obviously you have not spent much time in Northern Climates. It was routine to work outside on aircraft when the ambient temps were in the -20’s and widchills were -30 to -50 below. In one pic the guy on the ladder does not even have his gloves on. It must not be very cold to be handling metal bare handed.

  4. “Can you even begin to imagine repairing a car in Antarctica conditions” Yup. a lot of people have been doing exactly that in Michigan and Minnesota winters for the past 100 years we have had cars.

    In fact I have a friend that just fixed an alternator during or last snowstorm where we had -5degF and 40mph winds while we had 18 inches of snow dumped on us. That is worse than antartica.

    1. Now that is just mean, comparing the USA to Antarctica. Darwin has blessed Antarctica by keeping the number of idiots down. As a bonus: no political parties!

      1. By “idiot” you mean yourself, right? This winter alone has had low temperatures in Michigan and Minnesota as low as *OR LOWER* than at the poles.

  5. “Its virgin flight was in 1944.”

    If you or your editor knew anything about airplanes or about women, you would have written “maiden flight”.

  6. Now that is a larger than life project, helping a veteran plane get out after a crash like that, must have been an awesome project to be working with, despite the conditions.

  7. My dad was stationed in Christchurch, NZ with Operation Deep Freeze in the late 80s. While we were there VXE-6 (the Navy LC-130 outfit that turned over all operations to the USAF a long while back) dug a Herc out of the ice that had been abandoned after a botched JATO takeoff from the South Pole in 1971.

    They dug the plane (BuNo 148321 if anyone wants to look it up) out of ice that had accumulated to above wing level, replaced the engine that had been FOD’d out by a loose JATO rocket, put in fresh fuel, and flew her to McMurdo and then to Christchurch.

    In Christchurch they performed a more thorough teardown, inspection, and rebuild, then flew the bird home to Point Mugu. To my knowledge 321 stayed in service until the late 90s.

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