CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand -- Thousands of New Zealanders visited the Christchurch International Airport for a chance to get a glimpse inside the cockpit of a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, which deployed to Christchurch from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Sep. 29 in support of Operation Deep Freeze 2012.
Airmen from the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings guided visitors onto the aircraft and answered questions about the plane's capabilities. The tour was one of the many attractions arranged for the city's first ever New Zealand IceFest, an event with Antarctic-themed attractions throughout the city.
The event, which started Sept. 14 and is scheduled to last until Oct. 14, is a celebration of New Zealand's long history with Antarctica.
Upon arrival into Christchurch, the aircraft made a grand entrance performing a low-altitude flyover of various parts of the city. This included a flyover of Hagley Park, in the city center, where hundreds of school children gathered in a large formation to spell the word "IceFest" as a gesture to welcome the jet and its occupants to Christchurch.
The following day, people waited in line for as long as three hours for their chance to tour the jet that will soon be transporting cargo and National Science Foundation personnel to McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
"Christchurch is celebrating a century of being the gateway to Antarctica," said Jo Blair, the IceFest event director. "The goal of this event is to showcase our heritage with Antarctica and to help get kids interested in science, as well."
Getting a chance to tour the C-17 that will be transporting hundreds of NSF personnel is great for the kids in that respect, she said.
Also in attendance was the United States ambassador to New Zealand, David Huebner.
"This tour helps put a human face on U.S. military personnel," said Huebner. "Often, people tend to form their opinions from what they see on TV, and this tour is a great way to interact with U.S. Airmen and meet them face to face."
Christchurch got hit hard by the earthquakes in the past couple years and it hurt the city's morale and the people's confidence in the city's future, he said.
"This tour is a very tangible sign of the relationship the U.S. has with Christchurch," said Huebner. "It's great for the city to have friends demonstrate that they care."
Edwina Cordwell, a resident of Christchurch and one of the local attendees on the C-17 tour, described her amazement at seeing the large aircraft maneuver so effortlessly over her home.
"It gives you goose bumps," she said. "Seeing how nimble that huge plane can be. It's almost acrobatic."
Cordwell got choked up describing how she felt seeing the U.S. Air Force visiting Christchurch, especially in light of the devastation the city has suffered over recent years.
"It's quite emotional knowing someone cares," said Cordwell. "Seeing all this is just magical."
According to a representative of the event, more than 10,000 people showed up to tour the aircraft.
The first of 52 main season ODF missions departed Christchurch International Airport, en route to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, Oct. 1.