In Pole position … by business jet and DC3
Modern and antique aircraft – a Gulfstream G550 and a 1940s DC3 – were used to take Hamish Harding and his son Giles to the South Pole to raise awareness about malaria eradication. Mike Stones tells their story.
Soaking up the polar sun’s thin rays. A Gulfstream G550 and one of two ski-mounted Douglas DC3s await their next Antarctic adventure at the 3,000-metre ice runway at Wolf’s Fang, Antarctica.
MOST PARENTS would go to the ends of the earth for their children. Few get the chance. One dad who did just that recently is Hamish Harding, chairman of international business jet brokerage company Action Aviation. On a mission to highlight a malaria eradication campaign in Africa, Hamish and 12-year old Giles flew to the geographic South Pole.
For transport, they dispensed with the dog teams used by the first expedition to reach the Pole – led by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen in 1911 – preferring instead the comfort of a Gulfstream G550 and a 1940s ski-equipped Douglas DC3.
“My career in aviation takes me around the world so much and I have missed too many parents’ evenings and school rugby matches,” Harding tells Corporate Jet Investor. “So, when this opportunity arose to take Giles with me to the Pole, this helped to make up … in a big way.”
For transport, they used a Gulfstream G550; flying into the 3,000-metre ice runway of Wolf’s Fang, Antarctica. The only private runway in Antarctica, 20 minutes inland on the Cape Town side of the continent, it was established by White Desert Ltd, a luxury travel company, to provide access for tourists to the company's Whichaway Camp. “There are no hard runways in Antarctica,” explained Harding. “There are few hard glacial-ice runways which can take wheeled jets. Elsewhere, ski-equipped aircraft land on snow runways.”
Denied the luxury of maximum braking on ice, pilots need to allow for about twice the normal landing distance when touching down on ice, he says.
At Wolf’s Fang the Hardings swapped the Gulfstream G550 for a 1930s-designed ski-equipped Douglas DC3 built during the Second World War – albeit now a Basler BT-67 turbo-propeller conversion. The conversion included: fitting the airframe with new Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67R turboprop engines, lengthening the fuselage, strengthening the airframe, upgrading the avionics, and making modifications to the wings' leading edges and wingtips.
White Desert operates two of them in the summer season of November to February, to transport VIP passengers around the frozen continent. Temperatures in the polar summer range from -25 to -40 deg C at the 9,000ft elevation South Pole itself (and -10 to -15 deg C near the Antarctic coast) – in sharp contrast to the polar winter, which sees temperatures plummet to -50 to -70 deg C at the South Pole, along with 24-hour darkness.
“The DC3 Basler is about the only aircraft that will do the job,” says Harding. “While it’s not the biggest plane on skis – that’s the military C130 – it is the biggest aircraft available for civilian use. It’s a lovely aircraft to fly and land.”
Hamish Harding and son Giles catch their breath by a river while enjoying the chilly Antarctic summer during their visit to the geographic South Pole.
“The DC3 Basler is about the only aircraft that will do the job.”
Cape Town connection. Flying at 0.85 mach, the Gulfstream G550 can reach Wolf’s Fang in only five hours. (All carbon is offset with fully accredited schemes).
Ridge marks help the landing gear gain traction
Visitors enjoy exploring Antarctic ice caves sculptured by melt water.
And the DC3’s Sherpa-like lifting capacity is needed in the frozen continent. It’s the only aircraft capable of transporting up to 20 people at less than 1,000 feet above ground with full emergency gear from Wolf’s Fang across the high Antarctica plateau to the Pole. The DC3s, unlike the Gulfstream which spends only two to three hours on the ground, spend their summers on the continent.
No stranger to Polar aviation, Harding last flew over the Pole on his record-breaking 22,422-nautical mile flight, via both geographic poles, last July. The flight with astronaut colonel Terry Virts in a Qatar Executive Gulfstream G650ER business jet was the fastest circumnavigation of the Earth via both poles at 46 hours 40 mins.
Speaking at the time, Harding told us of likely consequences of a forced landing. “Mid-flight over the continent in the middle of the Antarctic winter, an emergency would have forced us to land on a rough gravel strip on the northern-most part of the Antarctic Peninsula [on South American side of the continent]. We could have landed the aircraft there in a real emergency, but such a landing would have turned the Gulfstream G650ER into scrap.”
The project, One More Orbit, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It was also designed to raise awareness about the importance of carbon reduction in aviation by more than offsetting the carbon of the entire mission with the help of The Carbon Underground. The organisation aims to accelerate the adoption of regenerative agriculture to help reverse the climate crisis.
Harding’s latest visit, which reached the Pole on January 12th, was to raise awareness about the Eradication of Malaria in Africa project, which is led by the Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation. The Prince, who joined the Hardings on their voyage is supporting research for a malaria vaccine with an initial $750,000 donation and has big plans for eradication projects within the country. At the Pole the team unfurled a Nigerian flag bearing the message: ‘Let’s Eradicate Malaria in Africa.’ In Africa alone, malaria kills 500,000 people a year.
During his visit Harding noticed the tell-tale signs of climate change. “It’s becoming very apparent in Antarctica. 80% of the world’s fresh water is in Antarctica and if even some of the coastal ice shelves of Antarctica melt enough and collapse into the sea, lots of coastal cities around the world will become more like Venice.”
The visit to the Pole notched up two firsts for the team. The Prince became the first Nigerian to reach the Pole and 12-year old Giles became its youngest visitor.
The polar expedition certainly made its mark on Giles. “It was all really awesome,” he said. “I don’t normally get to feel temperatures like -30°C. I’m worried about climate change and I learned a lot more about that on this journey. I saw things I hope will be there for more kids to see in the future.”
His father added: “Visiting the Pole again, this time with my son Giles and friend Prince Ned Nwoko, is a wonderful end to an exciting 12 months.” During a previous visit in December 2016, he accompanied astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Aldrin, at 86 years old, became the oldest person to visit the South Pole, although he subsequently had a medical emergency at the South Pole and was rescued as a full scale emergency by the US military and flown straight to New Zealand using a C130 and a C17.
Asked to recall his feelings at the bottom of the world, Hamish paused before remembering the achievements and sacrifices of the first polar explorers. Of Amundsen and his Norwegian team, first to the Pole in 1911, who used dogs to pull their sleds and then, as their food supplies dwindled, gradually ate their dogs. And Robert Falcon Scott and his British team who successfully reached the Pole a few weeks later but all perished on the return journey – their man-hauled sleds still loaded with fossils and other scientific samples.
The moment passes and Hamish adds smiling: “At least no dogs were damaged in our polar adventure.”
“At least no dogs were damaged in our polar adventure.”
Whichaway Camp, equipped with seven sleeping pods, caters for VIP visitors to the frozen continent.
Antarctic workhorse: the DC3 Basler on skis
“is about the only aircraft that will do the job”.
Flagging concern: Prince Ned Nwoko (left) displays the Nigerian flag emblazoned with the anti-malaria message. Hamish Harding and son Giles are pictured right. The disease kills 500,000 each year in Africa alone.
Watch the video
Ever wondered what it is like to land a DC3 on a snow runway at the South Pole? Then check out the video, filmed from the flight deck as the plane touches down at the world’s most southerly location, and also at Wolf’s Fang Ice Runway near the Antarctic coast. To put yourself in the cockpit, visit CorporateJetInvestor.com.