Members of the National Science Foundation wintering in the Antarctic prepare the drop zone for a C-17 Globemaster III that will be airdropping supplies Dec. 20. Airmen from the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., delivered 70 tons of supplies to the team. The mission was a “proof of concept” flight for the C-17 and was part of Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica’s Operation Deep Freeze. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt. Col. James McGann)
McChord C-17s, along with ski-equipped New York Air National Guard LC-130s redeployed from Christchurch, New Zealand, last week wrapped up the 2006-2007 season of Operation Deep Freeze. Operation Deep Freeze is a unique, joint and total force mission that has supported the National Science Foundation and U.S. Antarctic Program since 1955.
“Operation Deep Freeze is the most challenging, non-combat mission there is for us,” said Col. Damon Booth, 62nd Operations Group commander. “We ask our aircrews to land our mammoth C-17 on a frozen sheet of ice that is just a few feet thick. In some places this year, the ice wasn’t all that thick in places & you could actually see the water below the ice surfaces. But our aircrews thrive on challenges, and we’re ready for anything.”
During the recently-concluded 2006-2007 season, McChord C-17s flew 57 missions to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, from Christchurch carrying nearly four million pounds of cargo and 2,700 passengers. On the return missions from the frozen sea shelf of McMurdo, C-17 aircrews flew more than 720,000 pounds of cargo and 2,600 passengers back to Christchurch.
Lt. Col. Jim McGann, commander of Operation Deep Freeze, explained that the runway used at McMurdo was much like landing on Puget Sound’s Elliot Bay in Seattle & if Puget Sound was frozen solid.
“Despite that environment our aircrews flew into, landing and off- and on-loading people and cargo in temperatures at times (minus 58 degrees F) we didn’t miss a beat,” said Colonel McGann, who is assigned to the 62nd Operations Group. “McChord has been doing Operation Deep Freeze missions now for the last 10 years in a row, and we know what we’re doing.”
Earlier in the season, McChord C-17 aircrews achieved an airpower milestone Dec. 19 by completing the first C-17 airdrop mission delivering about 70,000 pounds of supplies to the South Pole.
The airdrop was required in order to test the aircraft in the harsh conditions it will perform under should the mission continue. Crews wanted to see how the avionics systems, cargo ramp and door and parachute deployment shoot perform under the -40 C temperature the C-17 and crew will encounter above Antarctica’s frozen surface.
The last airdrop at the South Pole was in 1999 by a C-141 Starlifter that was also flown by McChord Airmen. The ability to airdrop supplies using the C-17 versus the LC-130, which is the traditional platform used to airland supplies on the ice, allows aircrews to deliver up to four times as much supplies in a single airdrop mission in conditions that do not permit airland missions.
Aircrews and support members from McChord’s 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings teamed up with Airmen from the 109th Airlift Wing, New York Air National Guard to support air operations for Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica. Plans are already underway for the 2007-2008 Operation Deep Freeze missions.
A C-17 Globemaster III drops pallets of cargo Dec. 20 during the first C-17 airdrop to the South Pole. Airmen from the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., delivered 70 tons of supplies to the National Science Foundation team wintering there. The mission was a “proof of concept” flight for the C-17 and was part of Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica’s Operation Deep Freeze. (Raytheon Inc. photo/Forest Banks)