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Martin flying high after South Pole adventure

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Rick Martin has trouble staying grounded.
And this past winter, in the offseason from his job of flying water bombers for the Ontario government, the high-flying former Dauphin resident ended up on an adventure the type of which most people can only dream.
Early in the new year, Martin headed to Antarctica to fly tourists around the continent, as part of their high-end vacations to the South Pole.
Working with Enterprise Airlines on contract to the tourist outfit White Desert, which perfectly describes the environment, Martin said.
“Especially the area where we were,” Martin said, adding he made contact with the company through a friend.
“They were looking for some help obviously, so that’s how I ended up down there.”
Flying out of an airstrip called Wolf Fang, Martin ferried people on various legs of their vacation.
“Our guests come from Cape Town (South Africa) and they come down to the Antarctic and they land on Wolf Fang and then we take them to, basically, a luxury type camp,” Martin said, adding the camp is the hub for adventures during the week-long stay which can cost guests upwards of $100,000.
One of the highlights, he said, is a trip to the South Pole.
“Which is a day-and-a-half trip to take them there and back to camp,” Martin said, adding another highlight of the week is a flight to the coast to experience large colonies of Emperor Penguins.
“Which is another long day. Then we bring them back to our runway, that’s where we stay, and they jump back on a Gulfstream, it’s like a corporate jet, and they go back to Cape Town.”
The beauty of the area is what caught Martin by surprise. Expecting a flat, white expanse with little to no features, Martin was surprised to find that was not the case when he researched the area and was completely taken aback by its beauty when he arrived in person.
“There’s places on that Antarctic plateau that are over 12,000 feet,” Martin said.
“I mean it totally caught me off guard. Where our basecamp gets its name from is a mountain range that is our backdrop. In the background of our runway, there’s a peak that sits at about 10,000 feet and then once you pass that mountain range, you get up to a plateau, and like I say, there’s places on that plateau you’re crossing there 12,000 feet.”
The weather was also a pleasent surprise, and would be a surprise for those people who had trouble understanding why he would go to Antarctica.
“My joke was I’m going to spend the summer. It was summertime. It was 24-hour daylight. Where we had our base camp, we sit at about 3,800 feet above sea level and when I was there, during the day, daytime hours, it was -5C,” Martin said, laughing that he would receive messages from friends in Northern Ontario, his parents in Brandon and his sister Michelle in Dauphin about temperatures of -30C with howling winds and tons of snow.
“I’m thinking, well I’m in no rush to go back. Towards the end of my tour down there at the end of February, at night time the sun was starting to fall and you’re looking at maybe between -10C and -15C. We were sleeping in tents.”
Flying vintage DC-3T aircraft - the plane Martin flew was manufactured in 1944 - was a great experience, he said.
“They modernize them. So what they do is, they convert them. It’s a Basler conversion. They take off the piston engines and they put on turbines. And they modernize the avionics and whatnot to, you know, kind of like up to today’s standards.” Martin said.
“And the airframes are pretty much zero time after they come out of that shop. We still use the airframe time that is on the machine in the logbook, but they reskin whatever they need to reskin and bring them up to date. It’s really a unique airplane.”
With the number of research stations in the region, Martin said, there is more air traffic than people might realize.
“There’s another operation down there, a Canadian operation. They operate a lot of Basler DC-3s and Twin Otter aircraft down in the Antarctic. They do a lot of science work, so they’re based at all the different research stations there, and are flying cargo and freight and people to different places in the Antarctic, where ever they are doing their research,” Martin said.
“But we were 90 per cent tourism and we’ve picked up a little bit of science work down there, just for the research stations that are around our area.”
Another highlight for Martin was when his time in Antartica was over and he was able to ferry the aircraft back north to Canada.
“Which was kind of cool for a guy like myself. I never did anything like that before. I mean there’s guys around the world that are doing this, you know, day in and day out. But for myself it was kind of unique,” Martin said, adding he hopes to continue his relationship with Enterprise Airlines in the future.
“They operate other aircraft like that in different parts of the world, so I would kind of like to push them a little bit to see if I can go somewhere else.”