Dan Lewis
Level 3 Construction Plant Engineering Apprenticeship 2018
Age: 24
Job title: Traverse Vehicles Engineering Manager, British Antarctic Survey
Former employer: Arnold Plant Hire, Stockport.
Ambition: To travel the world

“Living and working in one of the most remote places on earth wouldn’t suit everyone – but I love it.

“In the Antarctic there’s no pollution, no noise and no internet. Elsewhere the air feels thicker and the UK, even in lockdown, seemed very busy in comparison.

“I’ve always enjoyed being out of doors and I feel so lucky that I’m having this incredible experience. It’s a great adventure with the added incentive that you’re doing something which could help to solve the planet’s climate crisis.

“I’m one of three vehicle engineering managers overseeing the heavy duty vehicles which provide logistical support to the British Antarctic Survey. I’m in charge of the traverse fleet, the expedition vehicles which haul the fuel, scientific equipment and supplies out into the field for the survey team.

“We don’t have workshops in the field so you have to rely on your skills and experience – but I use exactly the same principles that I learned from my lecturers at Reaseheath, just adapted to low temperature engineering.

“The type of machines I maintain and drive include 13 tonne PistenBullys for moving snow and 40 tonne loading shovels which we use to clear the aircraft runways. We also have piste bashers, bulldozers and snow mobiles, and we do light maintenance on the aircraft when required. We often fly between sites and it’s great fun co-piloting the planes.

“Our main base is Rothera Research Station in the British Antarctic Territory. It’s the main logistics centre for the Antarctic and has laboratories and research facilities along with quarters for the crew. There’s a mix of tradespeople living there such as plumbers, electricians and joiners plus scientists, researchers and support staff during the summer, but just a maintenance crew in the winter.

“My first contract was for 18 months and I was one of just two plant engineers to stay over winter. Our main project was helping to build a new wharf for the research ships. It was minus 45C and we didn’t see the sun for months – it was awesome.

“The best thing was going out for week long winter survival trips with a professional trainer. You take a tent and fuel, clothing and stores and go mountaineering, skiing and exploring. You use penetrating radar to make sure there are no crevasses under the ice and go where no-one’s been before.

“The wildlife is amazing too. The adelie penguins are very inquisitive and like to come over and watch what you’re doing, and you often have to drive round elephant seals asleep on the track. They’re enormous and very smelly. You also see fur seals, Weddell seals, orcas, humpback whales and albatrosses.

“Now I’m on a fixed contract I go to Antarctica for half the year and spend the remaining six months in our UK base in Cambridge, testing how mechanisms react in different conditions, modifying equipment and preparing them for shipping.

“I feel very lucky to have such an amazing job and I’d advise any engineer to apply and give it a go if they get the chance.”

To find out more about our engineering apprenticeships, please click here: Engineering Apprenticeships at Reaseheath College