Bambi and Godzilla

Bambi.  The Eurocopter AS 350 B2 Ecureuril.

Bambi. The Eurocopter AS 350 B2 Ecureuil.  Departing Fryxell camp.

Godzilla.  The Bell 212.

Godzilla. The Bell 212.  Departing Bohner Creek.

The French developed the Astar AS 350.   They call it the Ecureuil, the Squirrel.  Not too good at branding, the French.  But the Astar, as it is called in the North American market, is a delightful aircraft–it’s the best ride on the continent.  But, when you need really heavy work done, there is nothing like the 212, first cousin to the Huey of Vietnam fame.  The 212 is a beast.  Still pictures can’t do justice to the power of a 212 arrival or departure–wind speed is 60 knots, about 70 mph, at the edge of the rotor disk in a hover.  That’s when the aircraft is out of ground effect, about one rotor radius above the ground–I don’t know how fast it is in ground effect.  One of us (unnamed) was blown over backward, while braced, during a 212 arrival.  I find it hard to resist watching, but if I’m not covered up I have grit embedded to the roots of my hair and far into my ears.  The 212 can use that enormous power to climb 2,000 feet per minute, straight up.  You know a 212 is coming 10 minutes before it arrives–the definitive whup, whup, whup of the blades on an approaching 212 gets to you much sooner than the machine itself.  The sound summons up Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.

One day we were raiding the Fryxell camp larder while on our way to work the Huey Creek gauge (so far as I know, it is named after the chopper).   A 212 arrived with gear for a group moving into Fryxell.   In Antarctica the 212s have a helo tech aboard who does all the loading and unloading.   We went out to help.  It seemed like the job took forever.  It was like unloading a moving truck.  It’s astonishing how much stuff can be carried in a 212.

But, you ride in the back of the 212, often facing backward.  There are no photo windows.  It’s fundamental and capable, if stirring, transportation.   On the other hand, there is no bad seat in the Astar.  You are perched in this dome with expansive plexiglass, and photo windows that open.   Riding shotgun is…just…fantastic.

When asked how much I get paid for this work, my answer is, enough to support a serious latte habit, but I get a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of helicopter flights.

Some photos of Bambi and Godzilla.


The title inspired by Marv Newland’s cartoon.


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