Gib Finney’s sequel to THE POWER OF UN
Ice Mosquito Rules
16 June 2008, Finney @ 7:21 pm

[This post written 6/16/08; position: lat -57’49”, long -43’40”; temp -6C; wind chill -20C]

This trip is so strange. Every day I get up and I think, I wonder what amazing thing I’m going to see today that I’ve never seen before and maybe *nobody’s* ever seen before, because that’s pretty much how it is. Sometimes it’s because the scientists and engineers are doing things nobody’s ever tried before, like looking underneath icebergs with a video camera or dropping beacons with a miniature airplane, or building a new ROV out of stuff they found in cupboards. Sometimes they’re looking at things I’ve never seen before, or even imagined before, like those weird salps and jellyfish, or diatoms, which I haven’t even talked about yet. Or they’re doing stuff like figuring out how much a piece of ice the size of a city weighs, or measuring the iron in a bzillion gallons of seawater with a thing that looks like a torpedo. Or sometimes we see birds and animals that have never seen a human being before, like those penguins or…or the Minke whales that followed us today! Then there’s Strike, who I’m pretty sure is the first and only of his kind.

The day started out with our first sight of the new iceberg (which sort of has a name, which is A43K; more later about how they name icebergs). Dude. It is humongous. The size of a city, I am serious. We’re not sure how wide it is yet, but it is about 15 miles long, and about as tall as the iceberg we just left! It took us three hours just to cruise around it. Then, since the sea was smooth and there was hardly any wind, Dr. Smith and Captain Mike got everybody together and gave us a talk about how to stay safe while the radio-controlled plane (a.k.a. the Ice Mosquito) dropped a beacon on A43K and then came back to the helodeck. Mostly, this was about staying far, far away from anyplace where the propeller might go. Ash has been helping out with the plane, so he got to stay down in the helodeck hangar during the flight, but Rainy and I and most other people had to go up to the lookout deck and watch from there. That was surprisingly okay, actually. We had a good view of the whole flight.

Which was totally AWESOME. Kim was the pilot, Steve E. supervised and got the engine started, Alana held the antenna, Paul recorded the data from the camera and the flight recorder, and Jake and Ken were up in the ice tower doing reconnaissance. In the picture, you can see Kim and Steve on top, and the plane flying over the iceberg on the bottom one. The takeoff was perfect. The birds were totally curious, and bunches of them started following the plane. If you look close, you can see them in the picture. Kim did a few turns to get a feel for the wind (which was very light today) and then flew over the iceberg. When the plane was right over it, he dropped the beacon. In the video pictures, you can see it — snug inside the Nerf football — falling onto the snow and bouncing, about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. Then he brought the plane back. (I will try to put up some pictures from the video tomorrow.)

The landing was not so smooth. In fact, it was kind of a crash. The plane was damaged, but it did not go into the water. We retrieved the whole thing. And the GPS beacon is working well. So now the Ice Mosquito has a place in history. We believe it is the first RC airplane ever to successfully deliver a payload onto an iceberg! This is a very big deal, because up until today, the only way to do this was with a helicopter, which is expensive in a major way, and dangerous, too. People have died doing it. Today we proved there is a better way! Right here on the NBP, history was made.

Just in case that wasn’t enough, Steve E. shot some more marker harpoons, we got to see whales (not sure what kind they were this time) and snow petrels (which aren’t usually seen this far north), and the new ROV — which the engineers have named The Phoenix — passed its last test and will have its maiden voyage tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. Another exciting day ahead! The only possible problem is the barometer is falling, which means we might have stormy weather. Time will tell.