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Antarctica support operation under way

Airmen will make 5-hour flight 48 times this winter

62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Published: 11:54AM October 11th, 2012
Antarctica support operation under way

Staff Sgt. Sean Tobin

National Science Foundation personnel exit a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, Oct. 1, at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Every year, Airmen from the 62nd and 446th Airlift wings at Joint Base Lewis-McChord deploy to transport cargo and personnel in support of the NSF and Operation Deep Freeze.

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — Airmen from 62nd and 446th Airlift wings, kicked off their participation in the 2012-2013 Operation Deep Freeze main season, transporting National Science Foundation cargo and personnel to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, Oct. 1.

Deployed as the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, members departed Christchurch International Airport in a McChord Field C-17 Globemaster III aircraft with 76 passengers and 64,000 pounds of cargo onboard, bound for the icy continent.

Operation Deep Freeze is a joint service operation in support of the U.S. Antarctic Program and provides logistical support for the NSF’s scientific research in Antarctica.

Providing C-17 airlift support, the crews from McChord Field use Christchurch International Airport as a staging point for forward deployment to McMurdo Station.

“This is the best mission I’ve ever been part of,” said Lt. Col. Brent Keenan, 304th EAS commander, to a New Zealand news crew just prior to take off. “Everyone is excited, the weather is cooperating and we’ve got the best people for the mission.”

After the five-hour flight south to the remote Antarctic station, the C-17 touched down on the seasonal sea ice runway, a runway carved into a 100-inch layer of frozen ocean, just off of Ross Island, Antarctica.

With the aircraft engines still running, crews unloaded the cargo and loaded an additional 10,000 pounds of cargo to be taken out of McMurdo.

Because of the extreme cold, engines were kept running to help prevent the fuel from freezing and turning into gel.

Operation Deep Freeze is unlike any other U.S. military operations and presents many other unique challenges.

“Basically, you’re landing on a floating runway,” said Lt. Col. Jason Taylor, a 304th EAS pilot deployed from the 728th Airlift Squadron. “If you smack down hard on it like a paved runway, it can create waves in the ice and crack.”

Other runways exist in the continental ice; however, those are farther away from McMurdo and require much longer distances traveled to and from the aircraft. During this time of year, ODF personnel take advantage of the thick layer of sea ice that exists just off the station.

A total of 48 missions are scheduled for this season of ODF, which should be completed in March 2013.