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Aircraft join in Chinese Antarctic venture

Zhou Wenting
Updated: Oct 29,2016 9:28 AM     China Daily

A DC-3 upgraded by a US firm will support scientific work by the Chinese team.[Photo/China Daily]

China’s annual expedition to Antarctica will feature an upgraded Douglas DC-3 fixed-wing aircraft and several unmanned aerial vehicles for the first time this year.

The reliable and versatile DC-3 — which revolutionized air transport in the 1930s and 1940s — was upgraded by US-based aircraft remanufacturer Basler and is worth more than 90 million yuan ($13 million). It left Canada, where it was undergoing maintenance, on Oct 23, said Sun Tijun, director of the Polar Research Institute of China and a member of the expedition’s leadership team, said at a news briefing on Friday in Shanghai.

It will join the Chinese icebreaker Xuelong in Antarctica. The vessel is set to leave Shanghai on Nov 2.

“The plane will carry out scientific experiments and provide logistical support,” Sun said. “It will land at Kunlun Station, at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters, for a test.”

He said landing at such a high altitude will challenge both the performance of the aircraft and the physical condition of its crew, as well as test whether the plane is suitable for extended observation and exploration of the polar region.

“The airplane, whose wingspan and length are both about 30 meters, can act as a mobile platform for scientific research equipment,” Sun said.

In addition to the rebuilt vintage DC-3, at least 10 unmanned aerial vehicles of various types will be part of this year’s 161-day expedition, team leader Sun Bo said.

“Their ability to react rapidly makes them perfect for smaller tasks over shorter distances, such as assessing the ice condition 1 or 2 kilometers ahead,” Sun said.

During its travels, the expedition may also select a location for China’s fifth scientific research station in Antarctica.

“Possibly it will be at the southernmost part of the Ross Sea, where abundant ice shelves exist,” said Xu Shijie, another member of the leadership team. “The influence of ice on global climate change is a key topic around the world.”

Xu added that “a number of developed countries, including the United States, Italy, Germany and New Zealand, have set up their stations in the area, so having a station there is also a way to establish China’s influence in Antarctic expeditions”.

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