MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, WA — Team McChord Airmen assigned to the Expeditionary Airlift Squadron in support of Operation Deep Freeze completed the first operational C-17 Globemaster III airdrop to the Antarctic Gamburtsev Mountain Province Nov. 26. Thirty bundles of fuel and other supplies were delivered to a scientific camp in the province, one of the most remote locations on Earth.
Capt. Joe O’Rourke, a 7th Airlift Squadron pilot deployed to ODF helped develop the AGAP missions. He said the airdrop was a quick and efficient way to deliver resources to the camp, better than any other platform available.
“Without our delivery of that fuel, these scientists who are trekking out to the AGAP campsite from the South Pole would have had to carry that fuel with them, or a second trip would have been necessary from McMurdo Station over land carrying literally thousands of gallons of fuel,” he said.
In just three hours, the captain said, Airmen delivered what would take days or weeks to accomplish through any other means.
“The C-17 has revolutionized Antarctic logistics and this is another example of how we’ve leveraged our strategic airlift capability to support the National Science Foundation’s tactical requirement,” said Lt. Col. Jim McGann, EAS commander. “Airdropping the fuel enables critical global climate research to continue in remote locations. Without it, the project (involving six countries at a cost of more than $40 million) would fail. And support like this, even in the most hostile environment on the planet, is what Team McChord does best!”
The mission was flown as part of Operation Deep Freeze, which is commanded by U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica. Headquartered at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, and led by 13th Air Force, JTF SFA’s mission is to provide air- and sealift support to the National Science Foundation and U.S. Antarctic Program.
A total of four airdrops have now delivered supplies to the scientific campsite on the north side of the Gamburtsev province, a chain of mountains the size of the European Alps buried under five kilometers of ice.
Scientists believe that the Gamburtsev Mountains are the point of origin of the East Antarctic ice sheet and may be home to some of the oldest ice on the continent said Capt. O’Rourke.
“They are trying to determine the nature of that ice and also the nature of the geophysical event that caused the uplift of the mountains, whether it was volcanic, tectonic, or otherwise,” he said.
The U.S. military’s support to ODF 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.
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.
Editor’s Note: Video of the second air drop can be seen here.