|Master Sgt. Carmello Modesto loads equipment sleds destined for the U.S. Antarctic Program's South Pole research station into the back of an LC-130 Hercules. (Defense Department photo)
Two aircraft will depart on the five-day, 11,000- mile trip to Antarctica on each day. A total of six ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft will be on the ice during the October to February period. These aircraft will support the National Science Foundation's research in the Antarctic running supplies and people to field camps across the continent and the South Pole station.
The ski-equipped LC-130s operated by the 109th Airlift Wing are the only aircraft in the United States military capable of landing on snow and ice. This is the 24th year that the 109th will support operations in Antarctica.
The New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing plays a critical role in supporting National Science Foundation research across Antarctica. About 120 members of the New York Air National Guard will be deployed to Antarctica throughout the support season. The airmen deploy for 30 to 60 days each, working two 12-hour shifts to cover 24-hour operations, six days each week. They work a half-day on Sunday.
Based at the United States Antarctic Program base at McMurdo Station, the 109th is slated to fly more than 350 missions across the continent, with more than half of those moving passengers, cargo and fuel to the South Pole. The majority of supplies that reach the United States Amundsen–Scott Base at the South Pole are ferried there by the 109th Airlift Wing.
Despite the cold, the maintenance crews normally attain a high reliability rate for each aircraft, allowing the flight crews to carry as much cargo as possible to remote Antarctic outposts. The wing accumulates roughly 3,000 hours of flying time in the 16-week season. This is almost as much as most Air National Guard C-130 units fly in a year.
All maintenance performed on the aircraft is done outside on the snow and ice without the use of hangars. This requires maintainers to undergo specialized training for both maintenance procedures and personal extreme weather survival training.
U.S. military support for Operation Deep Freeze is a Pacific Command responsibility organized as Joint Task Force -Support Forces Antarctica. The Joint Task Force includes cargo and fuel tanker ships provided by Military Sealift Command, active-duty and Reserve C-17 support from the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules flown by the 109thAirlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard, as well as Coast Guard icebreakers and the Navy Cargo Handling Battalion One to provide critical port services at McMurdo Station.
The airlift part of Operation Deep Freeze operates from two primary locations with C-17s situated at Christchurch, New Zealand, and LC-130 Hercules forward based at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, beginning in late October.