Wilkins Aerodrome is near South Casey Station, a permanent base in Antarctica managed by the Australian Antarctic Division.
The runway is located on a glacier and only operates during the Antarctic summer, so it was important to get the helicopters out before winter set in and the window of opportunity was closed off due to weather.
LS Khan described herself as “over the moon” at the opportunity.
“It was a once in a lifetime chance,” she said.
“I’m from Queensland so I’m definitely not used to that level of cold but it was all part of the experience.
“Even the departure briefs were different to our usual guidelines.
“The Australian Antarctic Division gave us videos to watch which explained how to dress to stay warm, to vacuum our clothes to remove any seeds which may contaminate the environment and they also stressed the importance of not touching the penguins.”
LS Tim Graham shared the excitement.
“It was a huge adventure going somewhere most people don’t normally get to go, but while we were going into the unknown in terms of wilderness and climate, we were on very familiar territory when it came to the task ahead of us,” he said.
Due to the tight timeframe, the pre-departure period was intense.
“Morale is always high at 723 but everyone was very keen to help out in whatever way they could to ensure our success,” PO Anderson said.
“Everyone at the squadron pulled together to make this happen, they appreciated what a great opportunity this was.”
As well as their expertise, the team provided specialised equipment including aircraft lashings, handling wheels, a special towing arm and loading ramps developed by the team specifically for loading Squirrel helicopters into a C17.
“Working on ice presented a few unknowns for us but we were working with the Australian Antarctic Division team who were very familiar with that environment, so along with the Royal Australian Air Force, Navy worked together, sharing our individual areas of expertise and all with same common goal,” PO Anderson said.
“It wasn’t entirely straightforward; our Squirrels are slightly different to the Australian Antarctic Division’s which meant we had to readjust the ramps.
“It was a bit tricky to get them lined up perfectly.
“We were on the ground for just five hours, with 20 kilometres per hour winds and temperature of minus 17 degrees celsius.
“But we were so focussed on the job it wasn’t until the end of the day that we could stop and take it all in.
“We were waiting on the runway and I was shuffling in the snow when I saw the light blue ice of the glacier below us which is when I really got my bearings and a sense of where we were.”