STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. – The 109th Airlift Wing will launch a three-week mission to carry critical supplies to Summit Station, the only year-round science station that operates on the Greenland ice cap on August 4.
Three LC-130 Skibirds, supported by 20 aircrew members and 40 maintenance Airmen from Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, New York, will be delivering 280,000 pounds of fuel, around 40,000 gallons, and 30,000 pounds of food and other supplies in the shortened three week season.
CH2MHill Polar Services operate summit Station for the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Arctic Research Program and hosts scientists conducting climate and other research.
According to the NSF, it is the only high altitude, high latitude, inland, year‐round observing station in the arctic. The station will house five personnel throughout the winter.
“The missions our unit completes are critical to the lifeline of Summit Station. We are honored to continue to provide stability and support,” said Col. Michele Kilgore, the commander of the 109th.
During the U.S. winter season, the 109th supports Operation Deep Freeze in Antarctica. In the summer months, the unit flies typically to Greenland to continue its support for the NSF and train for Antarctic operations. This includes running the annual “Kool School,” which trains Airmen in arctic survival techniques.
This year is different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The unit will not perform any training and will only fly missions to Summit Station to resupply for the winter, so they do not run out of fuel and food.
The ski-equipped LC-130 can haul much more cargo than smaller ski-equipped aircraft, making it the preferred choice to complete the resupply in a shorter amount of time.
Ski-equipped Twin Otters, a Canadian company, made by Viking Air, is used to swap personnel at the station but cannot deliver large amounts of cargo or fuel.
The fuel is being transported by filling up the planes’ fuel tanks completely. The fuel that is not needed for the 836 miles, 4-hour roundtrip from the 109th Airlift Wing’s base at Kangerlussuaq, Greenland to Summit Station, is then offloaded into fuel bladders and tanks at the station.
This allows the aircraft to carry both fuel and food simultaneously, according to Maj. Daniel Urband, chief of 109th Greenland operations. This minimizes the number of trips needs to resupply the station.
The crews plan to complete three round trips a day during the mission, Urband said.
The Summit Station resupply mission demonstrates the vital role that the 109th Airlift Wing plays in the arctic, Kilgore said.
A new Air Force Arctic Strategy document released on July 21 clarifies that the arctic is a crucial region for U.S. defense and that the Air Force plays a vital role in the area.
The document specifically mentions the 109th Airlift Wing and the LC-130s as vital in providing year-round access to Greenland and other arctic regions. The strategy also emphasizes that as the operator of the U.S. Department of Defense’s only ski-equipped transport and contingency aircraft, a substantial portion of the Department’s arctic expertise resides in the wing’s Airmen.
The new strategy commits the Air Force to work with partners in the arctic region, and the mission in Greenland, which is part of Denmark, illustrates this, Kilgore said.
“The release of the Air Force Arctic Strategy highlights our commitment to our partners during these times of uncertainty,” she emphasized.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 109th has coordinated with the Danish government to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus. Precautions include quarantining before the trip and COVID testing before departure and while in the country.