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109th completes 32nd season supporting Antarctica mission

An LC-130 "Skibird" assigned to the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing parks during Exercise Arctic Eagle 2020 March 8, 2020. The 109th Airlift Wing flies the largest ski-equipped aircraft in the world and supports Antarctic research

An LC-130 "Skibird" assigned to the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing parks during Exercise Arctic Eagle 2020 March 8, 2020. The 109th Airlift Wing flies the largest ski-equipped aircraft in the world and supports Antarctic research.

STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. -- The New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing wrapped up its 32nd season of support for American research in Antarctica as Airmen and aircraft began returning home from McMurdo Station Feb. 28.

From October through February, five LC-130s and 328 Airmen provided support to U.S. Antarctic research as part of Operation Deep Freeze, the military's support to the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Program.

The unit completed more than 200 missions within Antarctica by flying 2,097 passengers – including distinguished visitors, researchers and support staff – almost 3 million pounds of cargo and more than 640,000 pounds of fuel to research stations across the continent.

Col. Cliff Souza, an LC-130 pilot and the commander of the 109th Airlift Wing's 139th Operations Group, said the wing accomplished all its missions despite using only five LC-130s and flying no more than 1,500 hours.

"We worked closely with Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica, the Antarctic support contractor and the National Science Foundation to optimize LC-130 flight hours and missions to ensure that scientists and their supplies got where they needed to be when they needed to be there," Souza said.

"This was the 60th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty and the 32nd year that the 109th Airlift Wing has supported this Antarctic mission," said Col. Michele Kilgore, 109th Airlift Wing commander and 13th Air Expeditionary Group commander. "We take a lot of pride in continuing our tradition of innovation and readiness operating in the harshest conditions on Earth, all while safely meeting mission requirements and exceeding expectations."

Among the VIPs the 109th Airmen flew this year was General Joseph Lengyel, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.

Operation Deep Freeze, the military component of the U.S. Antarctic Program, is managed by the National Science Foundation.

The LC-130 is the largest ski-equipped aircraft in the world, able to land on snow and ice. The "Skibirds" of the 109th Airlift Wing support science missions in Antarctica and Greenland, operating from Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, N.Y.

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