JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- The 62nd Airlift Wing began the winter flying period Aug. 20 as part of its support of the U.S. Antarctic Program and the National Science Foundation.
The period, known as WinFly, is scheduled to last until Aug. 28 and will deliver advance teams and cargo for the upcoming main season of Operation Deep Freeze.
A C-17 Globemaster III aircraft operated by the 62nd AW and its Reserve associate wing, the 446th AW, will deploy to transport NSF personnel and cargo to Chistchurch International Airport, New Zealand.
Christchurch is the starting point for forward deployment to McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
WinFly and ODF are unlike any other U.S. military operations and present unique challenges for all members involved.
"Flying into Antarctica during WinFly is challenging because it is dark almost all day," said Maj. Matt Armstrong, 62nd Operations Group executive officer.
Unlike a traditional concrete runway, the airfield is carved out of the ice making it very difficult to discern the runway from the surrounding ice, said Armstrong.
Traditional airfield lighting is not feasible in the remote, icy airfield, so special reflectors are placed along either side of the runway to help the aircraft's lights reflect back into the cockpit.
"We have to adjust for crosswinds early and make a very straight approach to the runway," said Lt. Col. Brent Keenan, the 62nd Operations Group deputy commander and ODF commander. "Otherwise the light from the aircraft would not hit the reflectors and we would not be able to see the runway."
Another factor that makes WinFly missions difficult is the extremely low temperatures that occur in Antarctica during the month of August, which is wintertime in the southern hemisphere.
"Temperatures get so low in flight that the pilots have to make sure that the fuel in the wings doesn't get so cold that it turns into a gel," said Armstrong.
The Air Force is uniquely equipped and trained to operate in such an austere environment and has provided support to U.S. Antarctic research since 1955.
"This is a small subset of missions we do no matter what conflicts are going on elsewhere in the world," said Keenan. "It's a unique mission and it's all about furthering science."
Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica, led by Pacific Air Forces at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, is scheduled to begin the Operation Deep Freeze main season at the end of September.