Research aircraft Polar 5 and Polar 6

Much of the Alfred Wegener Institute’s research is conducted in the inaccessible, ice-covered regions of the Arctic and Antarctic, making research aircraft indispensable. Currently the AWI relies on the research planes Polar 5 and Polar 6.

The two Basler BT-67 planes have been specially modified for flying under extreme polar conditions. Their landing gear, which combine skis and conventional tyres, allow them to land on and take off from concrete, gravel or snow. Thanks to de-icing systems, heating mats for the batteries and engines, and advanced navigation systems, the craft can even fly “blind” on instruments alone, safely land despite severe weather, and operate at temperatures down to -54 degrees Celsius.

AWI researchers use the aircraft to better understand processes at work in the polar regions, and to monitor and record interactions between the Earth’s crust, ice- and snow-covered areas, oceans and the atmosphere. Several times a year, Polar 5 and Polar 6 fly weeks-long expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic. They carry on board a diverse range of scientific equipment, much of which was developed at the AWI. Depending on the purpose of the respective flight, equipment is supplemented or supplanted.

One example is the so-called EM-Bird. The torpedo-like device is used to measure the sea-ice thickness in the polar regions – one of the most important ways for measuring climate change. The EM-Bird has to be suspended from a cable and is only 15 metres from the ground. Taking off from Svalbard or the coast of Canada, for example, the EM-Bird flights can range up to 350 nautical miles.

The planes are also vital to maintaining logistics between different international research stations in the Antarctic, where the AWI is an active member of the international DROMLAN Network – as part of this logistical partnership, Polar 5 and Polar 6 transport materials and staff between the various stations and are also on-call to render aid in case of emergencies.

Take off with Polar 5

Facts and figures

Polar 5 and 6 are largely identical; in the following overview, information exclusive to Polar 6 is listed after the notation ||:

Name (Registry): Polar 5 (C-GAWI) || Polar 6 (C-G HGF)
Model: Basler BT-67
Manufacturer: Basler Turbo Conversions
Year commissioned at the AWI: 2007 || 2011
Length: 20.66 metres
Wingspan: 29 metres
Basic weight: 8.3 t (with ski landing gear 8.9 t)
  2 x Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67R
Output per engine: 1,281 HP
Fuel consumption: 570 litres / hour
Max. take-off weight: 13 t
Max. take-off elevation without payload: 4,200 metres
Range without payload: ca. 3,000 kilometres
Range with 1,000 kg payload: 2,300 kilometres
Max. cruising speed:  315 kilometres / hour (Indicated Air Speed, IAS) 
Min. cruising speed: 167 kilometres / hour
Crew: 2 pilots, 1 mechanic
Researchers on board for transit flights / measuring flights: 18 / 9

(Technical Data/Valid as of 09.09.2014: All flight performance references depend on various parameters including weather conditions, actual weight and type of manoeuvre flown; accordingly, they can vary greatly in individual cases.)