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IceBridge Antarctic Mission Complete, DC-8 Returns Home
November 24, 2010

Pilots in DC-8 cockpitNASA Dryden Flight Research Center pilots Troy Asher (left) and Bill Brockett (right) were among the flight crew who flew NASA's DC-8 research aircraft during NASA's Fall 2010 Operation IceBridge campaign over Antarctica. (NASA Photo / Michael Studinger)

NASA's Operation IceBridge science team returned home Tuesday, after a five-week deployment to Punta Arenas in the Chilean state of Patagonia for the Fall 2010 Operation IceBridge environmental science campaign. NASA's DC-8 flying science laboratory arrived in Los Angeles International Airport shortly after 4 p.m. Nov. 23 after an uneventful 11.5-hour flight from Santiago, Chile, and after clearing customs, made the 20-minute hop to its home base at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif.

The last two data-collection flights over Antarctica Nov. 19 and 20 had been delayed several days due to difficulty in obtaining a replacement for a malfunctioning fuel-flow sensor on one of the DC-8's four engines. Once the part arrived at the remote deployment base, it was quickly installed, checked out, and the flight crew and scientists climbed aboard for what would be a 10.9-hour flight Nov.19. Almost four hours of that time was spent collecting data in four long low-altitude tracks over the Thwaites Glacier and Pine Island Bay, two each under the previous ground tracks of NASA's IceSat and CryoSat satellites.

The converted jetliner was aloft again for an 11-hour-plus flight Nov. 20, with the main objective to measure the ice thickness and surface elevations of the numerous tributaries feeding into the main Pine Island Glacier. With all seven specialized instruments operating, data was collected while flying at 1,500 feet above ground level on four arch-shaped lines centered around the outlet of the glacier over the course of four hours.

Flat icebergs that have broken off the Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica. This photo taken on the last science flight of the Fall 2010 Operation IceBridge campaign Nov. 20 shows flat icebergs that have broken off the Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica. "With the fuel flow problem behind us the scientists were eager to salvage as many days remaining with missions," reported NASA DC-8 research pilot Dick Ewers. Although weather conditions had hindered several of the earlier flights, he reported that the last two flights encountered clear air and excellent data-collection conditions.

Although about 35 planned flight hours remained on the flight schedule that would have allowed at least one more science flight, a fuel shortage in Punta Arenas resulting from a strike by refinery workers led mission managers to decide against extending the almost five-week campaign.

Mission managers reported that the science instruments functioned well during the campaign, which included 10 dedicated science flights totaling almost 115 hours of flight time over Antarctica and its environs, not including checkout and transit flights.

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