McMURDO STATION, Antarctica - New York Air National Guard Airmen who fly the only ski-equipped aircraft in the American military gave a lift to 35 Australian Antarctic researchers heading back home on Feb. 27.
Eight members of the 109th Airlift Wing flew one of six LC-130s, which have been based at McMurdo Station, the U.S. Antarctic Program's logistics hub at the southern tip of Ross Island, to the Australian Antarctic Division Davis station, 1,400 miles away on the other side of the continent.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) manages the Antarctic Program through which it coordinates all U.S. research on the southernmost continent, makes awards to support the research, and coordinates the infrastructure to facilitate the research.
The 109th flies in Antarctica as part of Operation Deep Freeze, the U.S. military support component of the Antarctic program.
After arriving at Davis station, the New York Airmen flew the 35 Australian researchers, who were heading home before the Antarctic winter hits, back to McMurdo Station. From there an Australian Airbus A319 will fly them home.
The Australian researchers had been scheduled to leave Davis station on board the icebreaker RVS Aurora Australia. The ship, though, ran aground at Australia's Mawson research station after it broke its mooring lines in a blizzard.
The ship was refloated on Saturday, Feb. 27, according to the Australian Antarctic Division.
The Australian requested help in transporting the researchers at Davis from the U.S. Antarctic Program because the Aurora Australia was not readily available. The mission was passed onto the 87 Airmen on duty at McMurdo Station.
"We are pleased to help out the Australians because we have an excellent working relationship with them," National Science Foundation spokesman Peter West told the Albany Times Union.
"The 109th has supported our mission for a very long time, and we're always happy with the relationship we have in the Air Guard," he said.
The 109th Airlift Wing is based at Stratton Air National Guard Base outside Schenectady, New York, and sends personnel and LC-130 “Skibirds" to the Antarctic every October. The LC-130s fly supplies and people around the continent until the onset of the Antarctic winter season in March.
With this mission complete, the 109th Airlift Wing crews will begin moving aircraft back home.
During the summer months the 109th supports science research in Greenland. For the past two years the wing has also participated in the Canadian Forces Operation Nunalivut exercise in the high Arctic.
In 2015 the wing's LC-130s helped fly in equipment used to locate the wreck of the HMS Erebus, one of two ships lost on the ill-fated Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage in 1845, during the Nunalivut exercise.
In 1999, a crew from the 109th Airlift Wing flew Dr. Jerri Nielsen, a staff member at NSF's Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole who was suffering from breast cancer safely out of Antarctica. An LC-130 from the wing landed in bitter cold, far earlier in the season than they normally fly, to retrieve the doctor.
In 2008 another 109th LC-130 rescued an Australian researcher who had broken his leg in an accident and flew him to Hobart, Australia, from Antarctica.
Each season the 109th Airlift wing deploys about 700 personnel to Antarctica and back, with about 125 and six to seven aircraft at McMurdo Station during that period.