Night-vision Antarctic mission a success

A United States Air Force Globemaster was back on the ground in Christchurch tonight after a pioneering round trip flight to Antarctica today, the pilots using night vision goggles to land in the dark at McMurdo Sound.

It was the first time such a landing had been attempted.

Pilot Lieutenant-Colonel Jim McGann admitted in an interview tonight it was "dangerous stuff".

However, the big jet landed safely on the McMurdo airfield, 3500km south of New Zealand, despite the dark and driving snow.

Col McGann said the risk was high, but it was mitigated by technology and months of training.

He added that the aircraft's lights reflected well off traffic cones laid to indicate the runway, and allowed it to get down without electric runway lights that are hard to maintain in the intense cold.

"The goggles were fantastic, the outline and runway were perfectly clear and we could see it from three miles and rolled right in. A picture perfect landing," he said on TV One News.

Col McGann was helped by three other pilots on the flight deck.

The flight opens up the possibility of safe and regular landings during the cold polar winter when the sun disappears for months.

Scientists can now be dropped off or picked up at any time of the year, medical evacuations are more feasible in winter, and fresh supplies can be taken in.

Today's flights took four hours each way.

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