Mawson’s Huts Sitrep Friday 1st January 2010
A great start to the new year, waking up in Antarctica.
Chris, Jody and Tony arose early to do some spectacular kite aerial photography of the artefact scatter north of the Main Hut with the radio controlled rig. This allows an operator on the ground to pan and tilt the camera to get different views. See the blog for some interesting examples.
PeMo continued the high resolution photography, today in Mawson’s cubicle in the main hut. The results are spectacular, and of such quality that it will be possible to view the interior of the hut from many different perspectives and zoom in for detail on chosen objects.
The conservation team continued the work of cataloging, treating and photographing artefacts.
The Ampair wind generator has served us well, but recently ceased to function. After help from the engineer in the UK Chris investigated the internals and discovered a fault in the brushes box which was meant to be corrected at the factory. There also appeared to be a short in the main windings and leakage of some lubricating fluid, which may be a consequence of the initial fault. We can’t do any further repairs in the field and the unit will be returned to Australia to be re-deployed on the next expedition.
The biggest news of the day is that we’ve found the air tractor, or at least parts of it! Bloggers will have noted that Tony and Chris have more than a passing interest in this aircraft, and have been searching with a plethora of electronic gear (ground penetrating radar, a metal detector, a magnetometer and an ice auger) hoping to uncover its final resting place. After the blue moon yesterday and a huge high tide overnight, we had a very low tide this evening, the lowest we’ll have all season and only 10 cm higher than the lowest possible tide here at Commonwealth Bay.
With visitors from the Orion due here in 2 days, our heritage carpenter Mark Farrell was wandering along the rocks on the edge of Boat Harbour looking for a suitable landing place, when he noticed some metal among the rocks in the water. He was pretty laid back about the find, calmly walking into Sorensen Hut to mention that he’d found something in the water that looked like the air tractor. Tony and Chris have never geared up so quickly, and hot footed it over to Boat Harbour with Mark. Michelle Berry, Jody Steele and Peter Morse weren’t far behind and together we examined the parts sitting in a few centimetres of water. With the tide already on the rise and higher tides ahead, we photographed the objects then brought them back to the lab immersed in sea water, until a plan can be made for their conservation.
Built in 1911, just 8 years after the Wright brother’s first flight, it was first aircraft from the famous Vicker’s factory, and the first aircraft taken to either polar region. Due to wing damage, it never flew here, but was converted into an ‘air tractor’, which the 1911-14 Australian Antarctic Expedition used to tow gear up onto the ice dome in preparation for their sledging journeys.
Chris Henderson said “It vindicates our continuing search: many people have said it was blown out to sea or taken away by the ice. It doesn’t matter that the various pieces of equipment weren’t successful – what matters is that the facts showed it should still have been where it was left – and it was. “
It’s been an exciting search. This evening and tomorrow (Saturday) are the only days all summer when the tide will be low enough to see the parts, and the weather looks like closing in. This year the ice was unusually low, so it seems that today was the only day in several years when the Vickers would’ve been exposed! Luck has been on our side and it’s great to bring this episode in the story of the Air Tractor to a close.
Photo: Parts of the air tractor in the water.