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Third rotation departs in support of Operation Deep Freeze

Published: 02:12PM November 13th, 2013
Third rotation departs in support of Operation Deep Freeze

U.S. Air Force photo

Airdrops in the Antarctica are a unique training opportunity. This 446th and 62nd Airlift Wing Airmen deployed to support Operation Deep Freeze hope to conduct an airdrop over the South Pole mid-November.

Thirty-six McChord Field Airmen, 13 of them Reservists, departed early in the morning Nov. 7 in what is the third rotation of crews supporting Operation Deep Freeze.

The plane the Reserve and active-duty Airmen fly is the C-17 Globemaster III, used to deliver National Science Foundation personnel and cargo to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, in support of Operation Deep Freeze. Operating as the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, the team of Airmen launches their missions from the international airport at Christchurch, New Zealand.

“We will fly to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, crew rest, and then continue on to New Zealand,” said Lt. Col. Hans Bley, 97th Airlift Squadron director of operations. “We arrive in Christchurch, New Zealand on Nov. 9 at approximately 1330L (1:30 p.m.). Sunday will be a training day, with our first mission planned for Nov. 11.”

McChord C-17s have been used in support of ODF dating back to 1999. Before that, the C-141 Starlifter was used.

This year’s main season is a bit different than those of the past.

“With the season delayed and then scaled back due to the budget, we will be doing about half the airlift as we’ve done in the past,” said Bley, who will also serve as the 304th EAS director of operations. “Plus, some of the work we’ve done is being move to other airframes such as the Airbus, and 747.”

Although the overall airlift is a lighter load than past years, the opportunity for some unique training remains open.

“During our rotation, we’re planning on doing an airdrop on the South Pole,” said Bley. “It’s a training mission to keep air drop currency. We didn’t get to do it last year because the ice runway failed, and the year before that they had to do a dry pass because of weather. So we haven’t done a real airdrop down there in the past couple of years.”

Bley and the rest of the team on this rotation will return just before the Thanksgiving holiday.

“There won’t be any C-17s down there in December, but we’ll be back down there in January,” said Bley. “That (break) started last year in an effort to save money.”

The weather in Christchurch will be similar to Washington in the spring. The temps are normally highs in the mid-60s and lows in mid 40s. Strong winds and rain are not uncommon.

The temperatures at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, however, will be a different story. Cold weather gear is a must for the aircrews.

Flying into and out of Antarctica brings with it unique challenges not found in any other operation because it’s a cold, windy and desolate environment.

Planning for Operation Deep Freeze began in 1954 as the most ambitious Antarctica Operation ever.

Under the command of Capt George Dufek, Operation Deep Freeze was first designed to furnish logistic support for the International Geophysical Year 1957-58. The 1954 plan was to operate for a span of only five years. Operation Deep Freeze, as it is now known, is into its 56th operational season.