For the first time, a plane has landed on the South Pole

The Airbus A340-500 made its inaugural landing on the South Pole on Monday, marking the start of a major effort to establish a permanent landing strip on the continent.

The flight traveled from the South East Weather Aviation base, in New Zealand’s South Island, to an airstrip at McMurdo Station, a United States research base.

Welcoming the expedition, Ron Dealy, an American who served as the U.S. Antarctic research service’s chief of staff from 1991 to 2004, said the plane’s arrival would “move our base more than 100 miles,” from the Nelson Peninsula to McMurdo, “providing better telecommunications and transportation.”

“I’m thrilled that our research program gets to demonstrate how much we’ve learned about the South Pole since we arrived there back in the mid-1980s,” said Maurice Slayton, the director of the American Land Forces Division at Northrop Grumman Corp. The aircraft’s arrival could also enable fuel shipments “with a truck journey” that would have taken days by ship.

Deeming it a significant achievement, Deyan, who oversaw the program’s arrival at the South Pole between 1999 and 2010, called its arrival “happening this year.”

And Serafina Woodbridge, a climate scientist from the University of Leeds, said it represented “an essential turning point in the history of the world’s scientists.”

“The ICS center at McMurdo offers the only way for scientists from around the world to get to the top of the world,” she said. “Today’s historic arrival of the Airbus A340 makes it possible to take all this research farther, faster and more accurately.”

The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), the parent company of Airbus, took part in the mission. The A340 was designed with a land-based hangar designed to support sub-zero conditions.

The plane’s first landing came after 43 years of attempts. The last landing attempt was made by a variant of the same aircraft in 1985. At that time, the Soviet Union had already withdrawn from the Antarctic in 1986, leaving the United States, Sweden and Britain in control of the region. Since then, the population of scientists there has declined.

Read the full story at The Wall Street Journal.


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