PEGASUS ICE RUNWAY, Antarctica — Lt. Col. Scott Weichert, a C-17 evaluator pilot with the 313th Airlift Squadron at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., looks out over the ice after the first ever night vision-assisted landing on Pegasus Ice Runway near McMurdo Station, Antarctica, on Sept. 11. The C-17 aircrew from McChord Air Force Base, Wash., made aviation history here Sept. 11, performing the first known after-dark landing in Antarctica using night vision goggles. The aircrew, consisting of active duty Airmen from the 62nd Airlift Wing and Reservists from the 446th Airlift Wing, was testing the concept of using night vision technology in combination with reflective cones and limited electrical lighting to land safely on the Pegasus Ice Runway near McMurdo Station, Antarctica, after dark. The crew is part of Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica, headquartered at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, and led by 13th Air Force. The joint task force is currently conducting Operation DEEP FREEZE in support of the National Science Foundation and U.S. Antarctic Program. (U.S.
Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Chris Vadnis)
MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. – On Sept. 11 Team McChord Airmen from the 62nd
and 446th Airlift Wings assigned to Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica took off from Christchurch, New Zealand, and landed at McMurdo Station completing the first-ever night vision goggle mission there.
“The successful completion of this mission opens the door for us to provide support to the National Science Foundation on a year-round basis,” said Operation Deep Freeze Commander Lt. Col. Jim McGann, who is assigned to the 62nd Operations Group. “McChord has performed Deep Freeze missions for more than 10 years and this mission demonstrates our ability to provide the NSF with critical logistical capability well into the future.”
The joint aircrew was extremely pleased all the training and careful planning that went into the historic NVG mission, initially planned landing in April, had finally paid off.
“For five months of the year the Antarctic shelf is in complete darkness,” said Operation Deep Freeze Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Scott Weichert, who is assigned to the 446th Operations Group. “You’re talking about a half the year without being able to assist our partners in the National Science Foundation. Now, that can all change.”
From August through February each year Airmen from McChord deliver supplies to the National Science Foundation in Antarctica. This mission could result in the capability to fly missions to that continent year-round.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am that Team McChord is part of this historic event,” said Col. Jeffrey L. Stephenson, 62nd Airlift Wing commander. “The successful completion of this mission is a true testament to the global reach capabilities of our Airmen and the C-17. Our team is proud to help expand our support to the National Science Foundation and U.S. Antarctic Program as they continue their research in Antarctica, and to help their people when they are most in need.”
The U.S. military’s support to Operation Deep Freeze began in 1955. Through this program, McChord Airmen provide airlift support in an extremely adverse environment, sometimes landing the C-17 on a six-foot thick ice runway to deliver supplies to the NSF from August through February each season. “There are a number of emotions involved in the successful completion of this mission, but ultimately our reservists will see this time as the precursor to
providing new opportunities and the National Science Foundation the U.S. Antarctica program will reap the rewards the changes this will offer them,” said Col. Lisa K. Tank, 446th Airlift Wing vice commander at McChord. “There were many herculean efforts that made a positive impact on this Air Force mission. We can and should all be very proud of that.”
During the 2007-2008 season, McChord C-17s flew 57 missions to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, from Christchurch carrying more than 3.1 million pounds of cargo and more than 2,800 passengers. On the return missions from the frozen sea shelf of McMurdo, C-17 aircrews flew more than 850,000 pounds of cargo and 2,700 passengers back to Christchurch.
Colonel McGann 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 the environment our aircrews fly into, landing and off- and on-loading people and cargo in temperatures at times nearing minus 58 degrees F, we didn’t miss a beat,” said Colonel McGann. “But we can always find ways to do it better and this mission provides a revolution in Antarctic logistics that will pave the way for a quantum leap in science on The Ice.”