Flashback to April 1972: Bell Helicopters Help Explore Antarctica

By Staff Writer | March 20, 2017
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Bell Antarctic April 1972

A Bell UH-1N flies near Mount Erebus. This photo originally appeared in the April 1972 issue of R&WI.

This article was originally published in the April 1972 issue of R&WI, and has been edited to comply with current grammar and style guidelines. Look for our special May/June 50th Anniversary edition of the magazine, in which we'll celebrate the past 50 years — and look ahead to the next 50 — of rotorcraft innovations.


Bell Helicopter UH-1Ns are supporting international scientific exploration of the frozen vastness of Antarctica.


Recently, four of the Twin Bell Hueys flew a sky-train mission to deliver a New Zealand research party and its supplies to the isolated Willett Range, placing them at the foot of Shapeless Mountain.

The helicopters, among six assigned to Navy Squadron VXE-6, operate out of McMurdo Station. They transported the research party and supplies, which included two toboggans, three sleds, radios and 4,800 pounds of food, some 115 miles from the main U.S. station.

The squadron has also completed transport of French scientists to Carrefour, a field camp about 20 miles from the French Station at Dumot d’Urville.

Sixteen scientists, support personnel and equipment began a trek which headed for Russia’s Vostok Station, more than 1,000 miles across the icecap in what is said to be the most extensive international science project of the austral summer.

The “Deep Freeze” operation is supported by Lockheed C-130 cargo aircraft, which can carry the helicopters, with rotors removed, to local sites for rescue or research work.

The U.S. Geological Survey team, as well as scientists of other nations, is dependent upon the helicopter for transportation of personnel and equipment to the various areas under research.

The saga of transporting helicopters to the Antarctic began at Quonset Point, where the Bell Twin Hueys were prepared for their long trip.

To protect them from salt and water during a month-long sea voyage to Christchurch, New Zealand, VXE-6 developed a “cocooning” process.

After dissembling and crating parts like tail booms and rotors, all joints, seams and rivets were covered with pressure-sensitive tape.

Next, the helicopter was sprayed with six coats of special strippable paint with a final covering of liquefied plastic. Most important part of the process was application of the paint evenly and thickly so that it could be peeled like a tangerine after arrival in New Zealand.

After reassembly, except for the main rotor, the ships were airlifted to McMurdo, showing no signs of element-damaging exposure.

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