109th Airlift Wing commences annual support for National Science Foundation support in Antarctica
By Master Sgt. Catharine Schmidt, New York National Guard
/ Published October 22, 2018
STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE -- Five hundred Airmen and 6 LC-130 Hercules assigned to the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing began their annual mission at McMurdo Station, Antarctica this week in support of the 31st season of Operation Deep Freeze.
Operation Deep Freeze is the logistical support mission that the U.S. military provides to the National Science Foundation-managed U.S. Antarctic Program.
Led by Pacific Air Forces, the Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica provides military support to the United States Antarctic Program comprised of active duty, National Guard and Reserve personnel from the U.S. Air Force, Coast Guard, Navy and Army.
The task force works closely with other Antarctic programs to best support National Science Foundation research teams and partnered entities in accomplishing their joint goals in the safest and most efficient way possible.
The 109th Airlift Wing has supported the National Science Foundation's South Pole research since 1988. The annual season is October through February.
The unique capabilities of the ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft make it the only one of its kind in the U.S. military, able to land on snow and ice. A foundational mission of the 109th Airlift Wing is to provide airlift within Antarctica, flying to various remote locations from McMurdo Station.
Crews will transport scientists, support, fuel, supplies, medical supplies and more throughout the season. Maintenance personnel will endure working outside with limited facilities to keep the aircraft mission ready.
During the deployment, the wing expects to fly more than 1,800 flying hours conducting approximately 240 missions with around 120 Airmen deployed on the ice at any one given time.
"Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, most inhospitable continent on the globe, and each Antarctic season features changes in planned LC-130 landing sites, and therefore each season and individual mission demands careful planning and coordination," said Lt. Col. William Carraher, 139th Airlift Squadron commander.
"Our aircrews, maintainers and support personnel are well trained and ready to support this vital mission despite the austere environment," Carraher said.
During the 2017-18 season, crews from the 109th completed 179 missions within Antarctica. They flew 2,300 researchers and support staff plus 2.7 million pounds of cargo and 135,000 gallons of fuel to research stations across the continent.