It's a while since I wrote my last blog about the deployment to Antarctica.  This is the result of having too much to do when I returned to New Zealand.  Sorry!

Having shown that the Fox would fly satisfactorily in the Antarctic conditions, though admittedly they were summer conditions, I had to start collecting data and stretching my comfort zone - flying over the camp and Spaulding Pond was an important first step, but there is very much more to do in Taylor Valley.

After the spectacular start to our flights, we had a couple of setbacks.  I found that one or other of the cameras was not triggering, but testing on the ground suggested that both cameras were working fine.  A morning of testing at K020 Base Camp suggested that one of the trigger leads from the autopilot had a fault, possibly in one of the plugs.  This was not something I could fix, so I decided to use the remaining camera lead and select the camera for the particular flight.

The next problem occurred on the first flight of the day.  After all pre-takeoff checks were complete, I hooked on the catapult and walked back the normal 20 paces.  I asked my wingman, Scotty, to command takeoff on the GCS and released the Fox, which accelerated away, but skimmed close to the ground, catching the propeller and smashing it into many pieces.  We aborted the takeoff at the GCS to prevent damage to the electronics and turn off the motor.  Because we must remove all foreign material from the valley, we spent about half an hour looking for the bits.  They had spread an amazing distance from the crash site.

Fortunately, I had several sets of propeller blades in my kit and it took only half an hour or so to mount new ones, check for proper alignment and prepare another flight.  But why had the aircraft failed to take off?  Probably two factors: just as we released the Fox, the wind died away, leaving us with no airflow over the wings at the critical moment; and the bungee was left out overnight, so perhaps the rubber had lost some of its elasticity (I know my knee joints did in the cold conditions!)  The next flight, I checked the wind carefully and took an extra five steps back.  The aircraft accelerated rapidly and completed a perfect launch.

We flew to Canada glacier across the Taylor Valley to the Northern side.  The tip of the glacier is approximately 5km from Spaulding Pond, so this was a challenge to the system, but more so to my confidence - as the aircraft flew off across the valley with what appeared to be a sense of urgency, we kept it in sight as the GCS reported "Range one thousand... range two thousand... etc".  At three thousand metres even those with the keenest eyes lost sight of the Fox against the backdrop of the mountains on the other side of the valley.  However, the GCS display showed the Fox heading for its waypoint at the tip of the glacier.  We had the RGB camera running during the crossing.

We did a couple of orbits over the end of the glacier and then programmed a return via Crescent glacier just to the East of Spaulding Pond.  As always, there was intense competition from the ground crew to be the first to spot the aircraft.  I heard it long before I had "eyes on" at about 1000 metres.  From there, I recalled the Fox for an uneventful automated parachute landing.  Plenty to think about during the night.

"Taylor Valley traffic, Fox UAV is airborne"