A real beast and for me the queen of all airplanes: the Iljuschin IL-76. Loud, powerful, fast, tremendous.
Actually a cargo plane, so we are cramped into our seats which were carelessly built-in and offer space for about 60 passengers. Apart from two little portholes there are no windows. The crane device dangling above our heads is a cause for concern. Sheet metal everywhere. Perceived comfort: 10 percent at a maximum. Behind our seats there is the freight, only separated by a curtain: our luggage, food, fuel and simply everything that is necessary to survive in the Antarctica. Only the huge flat screen in front of the cockpit does not fit the picture at all. The captain uses it to provide us with information since we can read, however not hear. The engines are roaring so loudly that we are even provided with earplugs to bring the noise down to a bearable level.
And then the daunting take-off. The powerful machine speeds forward, presses us into our seats and then effortlessly makes its ascent. We are able to follow all this live on the screen via transmission from the cockpit.
When we are airborne the loadmaster distributes artificial fruit juice and thick-layered sandwiches. Richard Gere and Pretty Woman Julia Roberts appear at the screen – without sound of course, but with subtitles. However most of us polar travellers are sleeping or resting in keen anticipation of what is waiting for us at the coldest, windiest and driest continent on earth.
About an hour before landing, the temperature in the plane is reduced from cool to extra cold. Adaption to Antarctic temperatures. So: hat, jacket and gloves on and get yourself adjusted.
After 4 ½ hours flight, the Iljuschin performs an astonishingly soft landing and comes to a halt after what seems only a few meters – and all this on a landing strip consisting of blank ice, the so-called Union Glacier Blue-Ice-Runway.
I put on my sunglasses, descend the steep ladder with my polar boots and carefully step onto the slippery ice. The adventure Antarctica is about to begin – although, with this amazing airplane it has already begun.