SCOTIA, N.Y. – The New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing will not be flying to Antarctica this year to provide logistics support to the National Science Foundation's U.S. Antarctic Program.
For 32 years, the 109th Airlift Wing, based at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, has supported National Science Foundation research in Antarctica by flying people, supplies and equipment around the continent.
The mission was part of Operation Deep Freeze, the Department of Defense's annual support to U.S. Antarctic operations.
Instead this year, the wing will deploy three LC-130s and three aircrews and a maintenance team – a total of 31 Airmen – to Christchurch, New Zealand, where they will be on standby for contingency missions that require flying to Antarctica.
The three Skibirds leave Scotia on Nov. 23. It takes roughly a week to fly from upstate New York to New Zealand.
The change in mission is because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Science Foundation is minimizing the number of people who set foot on the continent during the 2020-21 season as part of a commitment by the United States and other nations to prevent the introduction of the COVID-19 virus to Antarctica.
Traditionally the 109th Airlift Wing has flown six to seven LC-130 ski-equipped aircraft and around 250 people to McMurdo Station, the National Science Foundation facility on the continent that serves as the hub for U.S. research activities.
McMurdo Station is 2,415 miles from New Zealand, roughly eight hours of flying time.
"Despite the complications of operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, the 109th Airlift Wing will continue its support of the National Science Foundation," said Col. Christian Sander, the wing's vice commander. "Personnel and aircraft will operate during the timeframe when only ski-equipped aircraft may operate within Antarctica while adhering to all international and Centers for Disease Control guidelines."
Sander will be in command of the deployed aircraft and personnel.
The 109th Airlift Wing flies the largest aircraft in the world that are equipped to land on ice and snow. This ability makes the 109th Airlift Wing an indispensable partner to the National Science Foundation in the Arctic and Antarctic activities.
During the 2019-20 season, crews completed more than 150 missions within Antarctica by flying 2,100 researchers and support staff, 2.8 million pounds of cargo and 1.8 million pounds of fuel to research stations across the continent.
The 109th Airlift Wing has been supporting the National Science Foundation's Antarctic research since 1988. Since 1999, the unit has been the sole provider of polar airlift to the National Science Foundation and U.S. Antarctic research efforts.