Tuesday, November 15, 2005
posted 11/15/2005 09:21:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Nothing much new

Spent a lot of Monday doing fancy plumbing type stuff out at Willy field getting the tanks setup. Basically hooking valves, tanks, and a special filter called a coalescer (sucks water out of fuel in case there is condensation in the fuel system) together sections of 4 inch "Arctic Blue" hose and retightening bolts on all the flange fittings on the tanks. Things went fairly smoothly, except radio comms - an issue that's becoming a recurring theme. By the end of the day we had things setup to the point that we can transfer fuel from our bulk tanks in town all the way out to the runway storage tanks using that hose that I was working on. Here is a map that got sent out to all the residents of McMurdo showing the willy hose and the snow roads in that area overlaid against an aerial picture of the area:
Map of the ice shelf between Scott Base and Willy Field showing the willy hose.

Today seemed kind of laid back as it was happening, but in hindsight we got a lot of stuff done. Guess that's what efficiency is all about :) Moved a whole bunch (in the hundreds of thousands of gallons) of fuel between two of our bulk storage tanks, drained the line between the two of them when that was done, and filled up the Ice Runway tanks while the bulk transfer was going on. Of course, those are each pretty big tasks and there were several of us working on them at the same time, it wasn't just me singlehandedly setting valves, dipping tanks, and running the big electric pump! Which brings up some interesting little bits of info about how we do things down here, like how do we tell how much fuel is in one of these big tanks?

Unlike the fuel tank in a car or even an airplane, the tanks we use don't typically have a gauge that tells how much fuel is in them. We do have a few smaller tanks that do have gauges, but those are horribly inconsistent due to the harsh environment down here and generally bad design of these particular gauges (unfortunately, the fuels department doesn't get to choose exactly what tanks get purchased for some uses - these are a shining example of why that's not so good.) So, what do we use then? A dip tape! A dip tape is a pretty simple device, and is the most reliable and efficient way to measure fuel down here. In principle, they work a lot like the dipstick that you use to measure oil in a car engine, but instead of being a stick, it's a roll of thin metal with graduations on it (just like on a regular measuring tape.) Attached to the end of the metal band is a bob (some of these have a thermometer that we need to use when measuring large quantities of fuel) to make the tape sink down to the bottom of the tank. To use a dip tape, you climb up to the top of the tank and unroll the dip tape down into a port on the top of the tank. When you feel the bob touch bottom (very very gently! If you let too much tape out, you'll get an inaccurate reading,) you stop reeling it out and start reeling in the tape. If there's any fuel in the tank, part of the tape will be wet with it when you reel in the tape. You can then just look at the line of fuel and read the numbers on the tape to know how deep the fuel is in the tank. If you need to know how many gallons of fuel are in the tank, you compare the depth of the fuel with a chart that's made for that particular tank to get the number of gallons of fuel you're working with. It's a nifty little system that takes a bit of practice, but once you've got it down it's no problem to figure out how much fuel you're dealing with whether it's a 200 gallon tank or a 2.2 million gallon one!

Finally, I was just goofing around looking through some of the shared pictures folder down here and ran across a picture of some fuel drums about to get airdropped out of the back of an LC-130 over the WAIS (West Antarctic Ice Sheet) fieldcamp site - there's nothing there yet but snow and things that got tossed out the back of this plane. The drums are strapped in groups of 4 onto pallets cushioned with several inches of corrugated cardboard padding stuff, then a parachute (in the green bags you can see on top) is strapped on top. The plane flies over the site, the drums get shoved off the back, and if all goes well they land unbroken on the snow ready for people like my friend Trevor to show up and help get the camp up and running. Trevor's been waiting to get down to WAIS for over a month now, but nobody's managed to get a good enough weather window to fly from McMurdo and land on the ground (in an LC130 - C130 with giant skis and JATO bottles) at WAIS. If you look closely to the right of the red diamond sticker, you can even see some of my lousy handwriting!
Airdrop drums getting ready to take the plunge

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