SCOTIA, N.Y. and EAST GRANBY, Conn. – The New York National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing and the Connecticut National Guard's 103rd Airlift Wing transported National Science Foundation personnel and equipment from Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, New York, to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.
The trips marked the beginning of the NSF’s annual climate research mission across the Greenland ice cap. Kangerlussuaq is home to Greenland’s largest airport at the site of the former Sondestrom Air Base, which operated as a U.S. Air Force installation from 1941 to 1992.
New York’s 109th Airlift Wing operates most of the support flights for this NSF mission, with their LC-130 aircraft facilitating direct transport to and from the ice cap. During the research season, the unit sets up a small detachment at Kangerlussuaq Airport as a base for these operations.
“This time of year, the 109th is just returning from a similar support mission as part of Operation Deep Freeze in Antarctica,” said Lt. Col. Josh Panis, 118th Airlift Squadron assistant director of operations and mission aircraft commander. “They needed support with this particular trip for the National Science Foundation, and they reached out since we’ve supported the mission before.”
Eight Airmen from the 103rd – six aircrew and two maintainers –departed Bradley Air National Guard Base for Scotia, where they picked up 12 NSF personnel and their equipment and fueled up the C-130H Hercules before making the six-hour flight to Kangerlussuaq.
Airmen of the 109th Airlift Wing kicked off their annual support for NSF research in Greenland March 10, as 80 Airmen and two LC-130 aircraft left Stratton Air National Guard Base for Kangerlussuaq. The 109th Airlift Wing anticipates completing about 50 missions this season to resupply Summit Camp, a year-round staffed research station near the apex of the Greenland ice sheet.
"It's important to make sure we do all the right things as far as requirements go and really just take care of each other," said Col. Christian Sander, the commander of the 109th Airlift Wing. "It's going to be a lot of hard work but we can handle it."
For both wings, the COVID-19 pandemic made the mission to Greenland much different than others.
“Greenland has had 31 total cases and was at zero by the time we were traveling out there, so us flying in with scientists from all over the U.S. was a big deal to them,” said Panis, who was part of a mission to Greenland in 2019. “Our base public health team helped us out immensely with both rapid and PCR tests before we left, and the scientists quarantined both in New York before traveling and in Greenland upon arrival.”
This support was critical in successfully getting the NSF personnel in place to complete their research mission, said Panis.
“As soon as we landed we were met by customs, and the main thing they were concerned with was our COVID tests,” said Panis. “So I met with the agent and we went page by page for the 20 people we had on board.”
These critical health protection measures were an important piece of a complex mission for everyone involved.
“Any mission to the Arctic Circle is going to be challenging no matter what time of year you’re going, but the additional challenges presented by COVID and traveling there in the middle of winter added layers of complexity,” said Lt. Col. Tom Peralta, 103rd Operations Support Squadron director of operations and navigator for the mission.
One issue was the frigid weather. Upon arriving in -10 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures, crew members realized they would not be able to fit the aircraft in a hangar offered to them. Maintainers Tech. Sgt. Ryan Sullivan and Staff Sgt. Bryan Hannon removed the aircraft’s batteries to keep them warm in the hangar and ease the process of starting the aircraft for the return trip after reinstalling the batteries the next morning.
The Danish military generously offered the hangar space and provided aircraft towing and heaters, said Panis.
The 103rd crew quarantined in their lodging facility for the night before making the return trip the following day.
Completing the mission given the additional challenges was gratifying, said Panis.
“Supporting this mission can have national and global implications, so it felt good to be able to support the National Science Foundation and our sister unit as well,” said Peralta. “Greenland is a beautiful place, and I would do that mission again in a heartbeat.”