If you think going outside to collect the mail isn't on because it’s a bit nippy, then you might want to give a thought to a squadron of disabled British servicemembers who plan to spend next January flying to the South Pole in little more than hang gliders. Organized by the charity Flying For Freedom, up to five open-cockpit microlights will be piloted by the veterans to show what severely disabled people can achieve, as well as inspire others to seek rehabilitation.
If things go off as planned, the open-cockpit microlights will take off from McMurdo Station on a 14-day flight to the South Pole that has never been attempted by an able-bodied team – much less than one that includes several amputees. According to Flying For Freedom, the journey will not only challenge perceptions of the disabled, but will act as a technology demonstrator.
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The plan is for a squad of three to five microlights flying from McMurdo along the Great Ice Road to the South Pole with two ground vehicles trailing behind with medical support, food, and other supplies that the little aircraft are incapable of carrying. Along the way, they’ll try to fly over Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica, and after visiting the South Pole will return to Union Glacier before taking an air charter to Chile on the last leg home.
The team will use PM Aviation PulsR microlights, which are modified-wing microlights that have been under development for five years. With a 9.26 m (30.3 ft) wingspan and a top speed of 105 mph (169 km/h), these not only have to be extremely light, but also be able to withstand the extremely harsh environment of the icebound continent. There’s a full visor to keep off the freezing wind and the wheels have been replaced with skis. In addition, the carbon composite monocoque hull includes an enclosed engine bay to make it easier to start the engine in freezing conditions.
The organizers say that the hardest problem was modifying the wire harness, so that the insulation doesn't turn brittle and flake away in the cold. Another innovation designed to help cope with the low temperatures was to make parts of the aircraft out of 3D-printed titanium parts. Titanium has low thermal conductivity, so it’s safer to handle in extreme cold when there's a danger of frostbite.
Currently, the microlights have carried out flight tests in Sweden as well as tests of the hangar tent, which uses the microlight as a frame to provide shelter while saving weight. It was developed by Snowsleds, who also makes equipment for the British Antarctic Survey. In addition, the planes use a Breadcrumb WiFi system to stream live audio to a satellite base station in the support vehicles.
The expedition plans to head for Antarctica in December with the flight scheduled for January 2015. Until then, Flying For Freedom is soliciting donations with contributors able to help purchase various bits of equipment, such as an Antarctic suit for £675 (US$1,100), a complete plane for £42,000 (US$70,000), or a mile of the expedition for £160 (US$270). So far, £132,623 (US$223,000) of the organization’s £500,000 (US$843,000) goal has been raised.
The video below introduces the mission and some of its participants.
Source: Flying For Freedom