Saturday we meet at noon to go out for the first SUMO flights at the station. Last tests, pack the stuff and we leave. The balloon is made ready, the laptop plugged, the planes put together.
Before we can fly the balloon or a SUMO, we need to get a permission from Longyearbyen airport each time. The last commercial jet for Saturday lands over us towards the west. So we can go.
The SUMO is launched manually, goes into Auto1, Auto2 mode and flies its paths. Everything works like a charm. We must be careful not to collide with the cord of the tethered balloon. Therefore, we remain north of the station towards Endalen. One goal of the campaign is to compare the different aircraft and balloon against each other. So we bring one by one in the air and fly them.
The wind freshens up to 12m/s, and thus it is cold as hell in a matter of ten seconds. The snowsuit helps a lot, but with the wind in your face and at your fingers, it is nasty. The fingertips of the gloves are cut-off, so that you can operate the remote control transmitter, laptop or camera. If it gets too cold, it really hurts and it does that for a long time. I forgot how cold cold can be. The weather protective cover of the transmitter is reinforced with duct tape so that the wind no longer blows through.
The SUMO make their rounds, it works. There are three sensors attached to the balloon string on 30, 70 and 110m. The plane flies to the same heights and does three circles at each altitude. It turns dark and the LEDs flash into the valley.
The good news on Friday morning: We finally got the approval for flights. Unfortunately, only up to 120m above ground and flight in the line of sight. Not only is it difficult to get a permit…they are more restricted. We do not got out today. The aircraft are all fully tested and assembled again for the next day.
Due to the special status of Svalbard there is no sales tax on Svalbard. In particular, alcohol is quite cheap for Scandinavians. You can however only buy a certain quota in the supermarket. As a visitor you get to a stamp on your boarding pass on which the amount is ticked.
Today is friday gathering, beer in the cafeteria for an Euro. The dining hall was donated by the mining company and the center looks as one of the wooden coal transportation towers that are everywhere around Longyear. Looks a little as from an Astrid Lindgren story. We sit together with our student group. The fireplace is fueled and it is homey.
Two scientists eventually move the piano to the center, pick up a guitar and sing self-written songs. They sing of vegetarian polar bears and their concerns, the love for Svalbard, and how to constantly bring up new research things because you absolutely must come back to this special place. Or the idea of how zombies are rising out of the tombs of Longyear (the idea came to them when it was attempted to reconstruct the Spanish flu of 1918 from the graves in the permafrost).
This is great. We end up in the “Svalbar”.
Five years ago we were allowed to fly around relatively freely at altitudes of up to 1500m. With the weather balloon, we can now ascend up to 1100m. The SUMO still lacks permission for flying, although we would be operating at the same place in the air. This time we had to provide manuals, procedures, risik analysis, etc. Everything is much more formal and more strenuous. Drones do not have a good reputation.
In the morning we improve the scooter box with foam and drive back out to the station. The balloon is launched, the scooter weather mast operates without data loss thanks to shock-absorbing foam.
You have to pack up thick and then your moves are limited. Vast amounts instrument is brought back and forth. Late in the evening I click together a few slides, at 11:46 PM a SAS jet lands through the valley, earlier than planned. The balloon crew was notified well in advance and has brought down the balloon in time.
The tethered balloon may only go up outside the operating hours of the airport. So we start a little later on Wednesday so that we can stay longer in the evening. The “customer grade” wind sensor is attached to a small aluminum mast. Added are the same sensors as the plane, so we have: air temperature, humidity, pressure, soil temperature (IR radiation) and wind direction / speed.
It will be mounted on a sledge that is pulled by a snowmobile. Students want so go to different locations in the valley and then measure there for 10 minutes. In the afternoon a freight standard containers is freed of snow and ice with saws and many shovels. The balloon will be placed in there during the day, a helium filling costs 600 Euros.
The old aurora station is a wooden house a few kilometers east of Longyearbyen into the valley. Multiple plexiglass hemispheres were mounted on top to observe Aurora Borealis. Meanwhile, the optical polltion is so high through the town and passing scooters that a new station was built up in the mountains.
The very old airport was located right next to the station. There is an overturned wreck of a Ju-88 behind the hut. You can see parts of the landing gear poke through the snow. The steel and anodized aluminum looks as if it had just been dumped here last week.
It’s great to be back here. I would not have thought to be here again. It is a little like coming home. Everything is in its place and makes you feel home. The antenna is installed, the laptop set up. Thus we can not fly, but can track the scooter with Paparazzi. Outside, the balloon is filled. As usual, everything takes a little longer and is a bit more complicated than thought.
The students dash through the valley with the scooters. The -19°C (-2°F) air temperature plus wind make it cold as hell on these things. Every free piece of skin is frozen immediately. The students have yet visible fun, want the data. Unfortunately, the installation of the electronics in the waterproof box is less than optimal, we need better packaging.
We are still not through with the testing of aircraft and so we continue with that on Tuesday. A total of six aircraft are here. One of them has to be completely wired, two had been flown on the Polarstern already and two others are untested.
The next day will be planned in the afternoon. It will be “field day”, we will all go out for measurements. The eleven students come from Norway, Finland, USA, Germany, England, Czech Republic and Hungary. All are super motivated, they had to make some efforts to study a semester here at UNIS. There are three groups of students who want to explore different meteorological effects in Adventalen and the side valleys. Several weather stations were set up, a captive balloon will be started and the SUMO will fly. We give a short presentation on the history and functioning of Paparazzi and the SUMO system.
The next day is scheduled. In the basement we repair the winch for the tethered balloon. Unfortunately, these (expensive, 90k Euro) air ships are no longer manufactured.
I spend some part of the night writing software for the connection of a simple wind sensor to the Paparazzi system at the guest house. As long as we do not have a permit to fly the SUMOs, we will use the autopilot on the ground for measurements.
Monday we start at nine clock. Before we can go take off with the planes, new ones need to be assembled, old ones tested and be repaired. Therefore we prepare an office that has been used as a storage room so that we can handle the bulky SUMOs inside. There are aluminum and wooden boxes all around, almost every does have a FRAGILE sticker on the side and accommodates sensitive instruments. One is even equipped with a “shock sensor”, that will make you know when it has been tackled too hard. There are planes of three groups, all of which require more or less attention. One by one, we test the electronics and sensors and replace small parts. Of course, everything takes longer than expected.
We do that at UNIS, the University Centre in Svalbard. It is a union of several Norwegian universities. A great place. From the outside it looks like a wooden spaceship and inside it is even better. All very modern and classy, you can hardly study any more luxurious. The webcam below is mounted on the roof.
It feels familiar to leave the plane in Longyearbyen and to trudge across the apron to the reception building. We have flown around this runway with our styrofoam planes almost exactly five years ago. Now we are here again, although the farewell then was somehow permanently. This time there is no rental car with the keys plugged for us in the parking lot. We line up in the jam-packed bus and get chauffeured the few miles from the airport to the city. This gives a sort of an instant feel of tourism.
It seems to have become full. There are a number of new houses, industrial buildings and hotels. Construction is going on in many places. But perhaps that just seems to have changed for us. We now reside close to downtown in the UNIS guest house, not in Nybyen in the old miners’ accommodation. During our last stay we were traveling by car very early and very late to fly out of the airport opening times. Now we are walking around the city in daytime.
Our first stop is the supermarket. The flight attendant did not want to give us (free) food, despite what the ticket said. And wifi was not working on board as well! The extensive breakfast at Oslo Airport was the last meal. Everything is familiar with slight changes. There is now a half-pipe on the main shopping street. We live nobly for arctic conditions, next door to the Radisson BLU Hotel which is hardly better. The rooms are almost brand new, with bathroom, kitchen and smooth Internet.
By night we meet at Kroa with the other scientific visitors. We revel in memories of past measurement campaigns.
…and this is the view from our rooms.
The flight to Longyearbyen leaves early. So we had a stop in Oslo and took a tour through the city.
Some last direct sun at the airport.