New York’s Air National Guard takes off for Operation Deep Freeze.
Members of the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing took off Wednesday for Operation Deep Freeze in Antarctic.
The airmen are heading to the National Science Foundation base where the Airlift Wing’s one-of-a-kind ski-equipped LC-130’s can land and deliver supplies in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer months.
The airmen will live and work at the South Pole through March 2024. This season, the focus is on resupplying science stations on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the Amundson-Scott South Pole Station, and the Siple Dome Field camp.
The annual mission to McMurdo station, which requires nearly five days of travel, will rotate through 360 airmen. Last season, over 1,500 hours, more than 180 missions were flown by the squadron transporting 1.2 million pounds of fuel, 2.2 million pounds of cargo and more than 900 passengers.
Before arriving in Antarctica, the crew will stop in California, Hawaii, Pago Pago, and New Zealand.
Wing Commander Colonel Christian Sander says the wing took over the annual mission in 1999 following its successful work in Greenland during the Cold War.
“When the cold war was going on, there was radars, sets of radar sites that need to be refurbished and resupplied. We were doing that,” Sander said “And we were very successful that so the National Science Foundation was looking at our success rates and our expertise in the area and decided to invite us down and he did very well down there. And it just basically evolved to where the Navy is more interested in ships and the Air Force is more interested in airplanes. So, we took over the mission.”
Each of the five “Skibirds” carries twelve airmen and maintenance men.
In the Northern Hemisphere’s summertime, Sander says the crew trains in Greenland.
“We have a little bit more whitespace in our calendar to fly training missions in Greenland,” Sander says. “And we upgrade people and train people. We also have our what we call blast, which is Barren Land Arctic Survival School. And that’s where we’ll actually learn to survive if we ever have to spend some time out in the ice cap without any kind of structures to help us out.”
Lieutenant Colonel Drew Brewer says the crew flies National Science Foundation employee’s and their materials in the interest of national security and scientific research. Brewer says the lack of weather-related build-up on the continent adds to the challenge of travel.
“There’s not any landing instrumentation,” Brewer said. “So normally, we have to do everything off of ski way leading flags. So, we are, the weather is always critical, because we have to have a certain amount of visibility in order to perform such maneuvers.”
However, Brewer says the weather in the South Pole isn’t as harsh as many may think.
“You wake up in town, and you think, it’s Antarctica, it’s gonna be freezing,” Brewer said. “But there’s some days that it’s warmer in Antarctica than it is in upstate New York. So, I can walk to the gym and my shorts, you know, in the morning, before the long day. Once you get out onto the actual ice cap and fly to the South Pole, that’s where you might encounter the negative 50.”
While stationed, airmen will fly between Christchurch, New Zealand and Antarctica to collect supplies and support U.S. research efforts.