STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, SCOTIA, N.Y. - Airmen from the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing will cap five months of support of United States Antarctic research efforts by flying 1,100 researchers and support staff, and 43 tons of cargo, from the McMurdo Station base to New Zealand aboard seven of its 10 ski-equipped LC-130 cargo planes.
The flights are expected to begin next week.
In the past, the United States Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation, has used C-17 Globemaster III jets assigned to the 62nd Airlift Wing at McChord Air Force Base to move researchers out of Antarctica as summer there comes to an end.
These aircraft can carry more than 120 people on each flight.
This year, however, the snow and ice runway the big jets, and other non-ski aircraft, use to land on is too soft to support their weight.
Last year, strong winds blanketed the airfield and the area around it for several square miles with volcanic dust and dirt from nearby terrain. When combined with the warm summer sun and mild January temperatures, this dirty snow and ice melted rapidly, forming melt pools 2 feet deep in areas.
Although temperatures are cooling, the runway's current condition makes it impossible for any wheeled aircraft, including the C-17, to land or take off on it. Only the LC-130s flown by the 109th, which land on skis as well as wheels, can use the runway to move people and cargo.
The LC-130 has a maximum passenger load of 35-40 people for inter-continental flights between McMurdo Station and Christchurch, New Zealand. For this reason it will take more missions to redeploy research and support personnel to New Zealand as they start their journeys home.
This will result in the 109th Airmen extending their deployment for a few weeks. The wing's Airmen normally return to Stratton Air Guard Base in mid-February to begin preparing to fly science support missions to Greenland during the northern hemisphere's summer months.
"The unique capabilities of our aircraft have made it possible for scientists to do their work and get the most of the Antarctic summer research season," said Col. Shawn Clouthier, the wing's commander.
"I am proud of our Airmen who have deployed this season and the dedication and hard work they have and continue to put into this season," he added.
The wing has deployed 479 Air National Guard members to Antarctica since the season began in October, with an average of 150 on duty at any one time.
Although the partial federal government shutdown in October 2013 forced the USAP to consider canceling or deferring many research projects, primarily in and around McMurdo Station, and running the three U.S. Antarctic research stations in a caretaker mode, when the budget problems were resolved, the USAP moved ahead with as much planned research as possible.
The problems with the runway also meant the C-17s have not been flying into and out of the Antarctic since November 2013.
This resulted in the 109th Airmen flying more missions than first planned, Clouthier said.
The wing has already completed 38 more missions than the 181 which the Airmen had planned to execute.
The wing normally deploys six LC-130s and six crews to fly missions. This year the wing deployed seven aircraft and added additional crews and maintenance personnel to handle the extra mission requirements, Clouthier said.
"Without the efforts of our aircrews and ground crews the 2013-2014 research season would not have been as successful," Clouthier said.
This season, the 109th expects to complete a total of 284 missions.
The new missions represent a 57 percent increase in workload for the 109th.
To accomplish this, the wing is scheduling up to seven missions each day.