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109th Airlift Wing completes 31st season of Antarctic support

By Master Sgt. Jaclyn Lyons | New York National Guard | March 1, 2019

SCOTIA, N.Y. - The New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing successfully wrapped up its 31st season of supporting American research in Antarctica as Airmen and aircraft returned home from McMurdo Station, Antarctica, this week.

From October through February, six LC-130s and 551 Airmen provided support to Operation Deep Freeze, the U.S. military’s support to Antarctic research.

The LC-130s are equipped with skis so they can land on snow and ice. They are the largest aircraft in the world with this capability and the only ones in the U.S. inventory equipped this way.

The109th Airmen completed 154 missions within Antarctica over their five-month flying season. The wing flew around 2,100 researchers and support staff, 2.8 million pounds of cargo and more than 250,000 gallons of fuel to research stations across the continent.

This season also marked the first time all of the ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft operated with the eight-bladed NP-2000 propeller.

The NP-2000 propeller, which replaces the standard four-bladed one, provides improved performance capability, better fuel efficiency, and better maintenance reliability than the older propeller system.

There are many advantages to the NP-2000, whose blades are swept back instead of straight, said Lt. Col. Steven Slosek, an LC-130 navigator.

“The new propellers provide more power at lower speeds,” he said. “This eliminates the need for assisted takeoffs on unprepared or soft snow. It also allows for just one blade to be replaced when needed instead of having to replace all the blades at once.”

In the past, the 109th often had to use jet-assisted take-off devices – a rocket strapped on the aircraft—to take off in some instances. This, however, stressed the airframe and decreased aircraft life.

A notable accomplishment by the unit this season was flying more missions to West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide than ever before.

Out of the 154 missions flown this year, 55 of them were to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. This mission is challenging due to the length of the flight and the often poor weather conditions there, according to Maj.Tim Novak, who works in the wing operations office.

The additional flights were due to American researchers teaming up with British scientists to study the Thwaites Glacier, a portion of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet which appears likely to collapse into the ocean. This mission is a multi-year project that runs through 2021, Novak explained.

Col. Michele Kilgore, 109th Airlift Wing commander, who deployed as 13th Air Expeditionary Group Commander, Support Forces Antarctica, said the wing’s Airmen did great work this season.

“I am proud of the work we do each year to support the United States Antarctic Program and the hard work put in by all of our maintenance, aircrew and support staff to make each season a success. It means a lot to be able to lead such a talented and hard-working group of men and women,” Kilgore said.

Operation Deep Freeze, the military component of the U.S. Antarctic Program, is managed by the National Science Foundation.

The unit will now begin preparing for its annual mission to Greenland, which starts in April.