STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. - The New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing began its annual round of logistics support for U.S. Antarctic research by sending five LC-130 aircraft on the five-day trip to Antarctica Oct. 17-19.
The 109th Airlift Wing flies the largest ski-equipped aircraft in the world, supporting the National Science Foundation’s climate science research and other activities in Antarctica.
The 109th expects to deploy about 366 people to the continent in shifts. The Airmen will operate out of the foundation’s McMurdo Station, flying personnel and supplies throughout the continent from November to March. Their primary mission will be resupplying science stations on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, said Maj. Shay Price, Antarctic operations officer.
“As the world’s only ski-equipped C-130’s, we can land at places no one else can,” said. Lt Col. Drew Brewer, current operations officer. “We can go further and deeper across the continent, which is what they need to get to the different locations for their studies.”
There are challenges to flying across Antarctica and landing on remote ice and snow runways called “skiways.”
“There’s not any landing instrumentation,” Brewer said. “So normally, we have to do everything off of skiway leading flags. ... The weather is always critical because we have to have a certain amount of visibility in order to perform such maneuvers.”
However, Brewer said the weather in the South Pole isn’t as harsh as many may think.
“You wake up in town, and you think, it’s Antarctica, it’s gonna be freezing,” Brewer said. “But there’s some days that it’s warmer in Antarctica than it is in upstate New York. ... Once you get out onto the actual ice cap and fly to the South Pole, that’s where you might encounter the negative 50.”
The remote field camps serve as aviation hubs and refueling points for travel throughout the continent as well as scientific research in West Antarctica, Brewer said. The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is a National Science Foundation research facility at the geographic South Pole.
“The 109th Airlift Wing is honored to play an integral role in Operation Deep Freeze, offering our unique capabilities, enabling the aims of the Department of Defense while supporting vital research throughout Antarctica,” said Col. Rob Donaldson, deputy commander of the 109th Airlift Wing.
At the end of the season, the wing’s Airmen will make intercontinental trips from Christchurch, New Zealand, to McMurdo Station.
During the 2022-2023 support season, the 109th completed 188 missions — 120 of them on-continent. Airmen flew 1,553 flight hours, transported 1,537 passengers, 201,784 gallons of fuel and 2.2 million pounds of cargo.
The 109th took over the mission of supporting Antarctic operations from the U.S. Navy in 1999, according to Col. Christian Sander, wing commander.