News>South Pole Airdrop Delivers Critical Medical Supplies in Total Darkness
A C-17 Globemaster III Loadmaster, forward-based with the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at Christchurch, New Zealand,prepares to airdrop urgently needed medical supplies near the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station . The supply drop is part of Operation Deep Freeze (ODF) and in support of the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation (NSF). ODF is an annual U.S. Air Force-led mission to lend operational and logistical support to the National Science Foundation's research and exploration in Antarctica.(courtesy image/Chief Master Sgt. Jim Masura)
Pole Station . The supply drop is part of Operation Deep Freeze (ODF) and in support of the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation (NSF). ODF is an annual U.S. Air Force-led mission to lend operational and logistical support to the National Science Foundation's research and exploration in Antarctica.(courtesy image/Robert Schwarz)
by Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica Public Affairs
9/1/2011 - CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND -- Operation Deep Freeze's 2011-2012 season began with late-winter flying operations, known as WINFLY, a short 10 days ago. Yet, already the military's support capabilities are being put to the test.
A C-17 Globemaster III, forward-based with the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at Christchurch, New Zealand, extended one of their WINFLY missions today past McMurdo Station, Antarctica to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station to airdrop urgently needed medical supplies. The supplies will augment a South Pole medical team's treatment by of an ailing civilian wintering over there with the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Although accessible by ski-equipped aircraft during the summer season, extreme cold winter temperatures ranging from between 70 and 80 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, plus continual darkness and strong winds, rule out traveling 800 miles overland and prohibit landing any aircraft at the Pole during the winter. South Pole physicians and staff must therefore handle all medical emergencies themselves.
Upon learning that one the staff members at South Pole required additional medical supplies, the NSF, lead agency for the U.S. Antarctic Program, formally requested help from its inter-agency partner, Joint Task Force - Support Forces Antarctica (JTF-SFA). Lieutenant General Stanley T. Kresge, Commander of both 13th Air Force, and JTF-SFA, based at Joint Base Pearl-Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii called upon his attached C-17 forces, deployed from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wa., to provide a solution.
The solution: a parachute enabled C-17 air-drop of medical supplies in bitter cold and complete darkness using night vision devices. Although JTF-SFA plans for such missions in its Operations Order and trains for this requirement during the summer season, this would mark the first time a C-17 ever attempted a mid-winter, nighttime air-drop at the South Pole.
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Wellington, commander of the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, assigned C-17 weapons and tactics instructor pilot Major Rick Kind, to plan the mission. Colonel Wellington, Major Kind, and the JTF-SFA team worked closely with NSF planners to execute the mission.
According to Colonel Wellington, "Coming on the heels of the late June mid-winter medical evacuation mission from McMurdo [Station], we welcomed another opportunity to provide assistance to the NSF. Plus, we were fortunate to have the right crew with right qualifications in place when the call came in."
"During the winter, the only option was to airdrop supplies in," said Lieutenant Col. Edward Vaughan, Deep Freeze's interim director of joint operations. "Rapid Global Mobility is one of the Air Force's Core Capabilities supporting the joint military team. Year-round airdrop at the South Pole is one of the specific capabilities that the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron brings to JTF-SFA operations."
Since the South Pole has 24 hours of darkness during the Polar Winter, the use of night vision goggles (NVGs) was essential for the mission, so scheduling the delivery around daylight was not a factor.
"The complex mission, utilizing NVGs to first land at McMurdo and then later acquire the South Pole drop zone, exploited the unique capability of the aircraft, and validated the operational procedures developed, and the training accomplished over the last several ODF Seasons," added Colonel Wellington. "It was the first C-17A winter airdrop at the Pole and presents a stellar example of inter-agency cooperation."
The typical Operation Deep Freeze mission consists of a four and a half hour flight from Christchurch, to McMurdo, with only one hour on the ground before returning to New Zealand. By being able to combine missions, the C-17 crew simply added the two and a half hour flight over the South Pole after the routine stop at McMurdo. Once over the South Pole, the crew released two parachute-supported 200-lb bundles of supplies before heading back to Christchurch.
Mr. Kevin Schriner, NSF contractor and network administrator at the South Pole, was on hand to receive the airdrop. He commented via email, "The South Pole air drop was a complete success. Two packages were dropped and recovered without damage...Thank you to everyone who helped to make this operation a success."
For more information on Operation Deep Freeze, contact Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica Public Affairs at 808-449-7985 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the U.S. Antarctic Program, visit the official website at www.usap.gov.