STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, New York – The New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing wrapped up its 33rd season of supporting U.S. science research in the Antarctic.
From November through February, the 73 Airmen and three LC-130 “Skibirds” supported the United States Antarctic research efforts as part of Operation Deep Freeze, the Department of Defense’s annual support to the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic program.
The Airmen and aircraft were based at the Christchurch International Airport in Christchurch, New Zealand, after completing COVID quarantine requirements for the country of New Zealand.
The planes and crews were on standby in New Zealand instead of basing at the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station. They returned to Stratton Air National Guard Base outside Schenectady Feb. 24-27.
Normally, the 109th Airlift Wing sends six to seven planes and around 250 Airmen to McMurdo during the support season, which runs from October until March, the summer months in Antarctica.
This season, the crews based in New Zealand and only flew to the Antarctic to conduct missions as needed to minimize the chance of the coronavirus getting loose in the enclosed environments of Antarctic research stations.
“The season was a lot different this year. We ran Operation Deep Freeze from New Zealand, not your typical routine. When a plane flew, it had two augmented crews so they could fly down and come back on the same day,” said Master Sgt Mike Hill, an LC-130 crew chief.
Eventually, the 109th Airmen completed six missions in Antarctica. They flew three medevac missions, transported 148 researchers and support staff, and delivered 63,000 pounds of critical cargo to research stations within the continent.
“The trip in all was great, successful and out of the ordinary,” said Hill.
Col. Christian Sander, the 109th Airlift Wing commander, deployed as the Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica commander and also the 13 Air Expeditionary Group commander.
“Our Airmen rose to the challenge of having a smaller deployed footprint, intense COVID safety protocols and uncertain mission requirements, making this season unlike any other,” Sander said. “Despite these limitations, the unit was able to safely provide critical supplies and essential personnel to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, during a time when no other aircraft could.”
The LC-130’s flown by the 109th Airlift Wing are the largest aircraft in the world that can land on snow and ice using skis. They can land on the runway when wheeled aircraft cannot.
Operation Deep Freeze, the military component of the U.S. Antarctic Program, is managed by the National Science Foundation.