STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. — The takeoff of the New York Air National Guard's LC-130 Hercules ski-equipped aircraft here Oct. 16 marked the official start of the 109th Airlift Wing's 28th season of support to science research at the South Pole.
By the end of the month, the wing’s Airmen and aircraft are expected to be in place at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, participating in Operation Deep Freeze, the military component of the U.S. Antarctic Program, managed by the National Science Foundation.
Lt. Col. Seth Barrows was part of the first aircrew to leave and will be the 139th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron deployed commander upon arrival. Barrows said as the deployed commander he must ensure planes, people and weather are all good to ensure a safe, successful mission.
"The weather is the biggest challenge so you watch that weather very closely, and from there you do your mission," said Lt. Col. Christian Sander, the 109th Operations Group commander.
Throughout the season, which runs through February, a total of seven LC-130 ski-equipped aircraft and about 500 Airmen are expected to deploy, with 330 missions planned. About 120 Airmen will be deployed on the ice at any one time.
The unique capabilities of the ski-equipped LC-130 make it the only one of its kind in the U.S. military able to land on snow and ice. The primary mission of the 109th AW is to provide airlift within Antarctica, flying to various remote locations from McMurdo Station. Crews will transport scientists, support, fuel, supplies, medical supplies and more throughout the season.
This year, the IcePod missions are expected to increase from the previous season. The IcePod is an externally mounted electronics pod that provides an integrated ice imaging system that measures in detail both the ice surface and the ice bed.
"This season is seeing the maturation of the Common Science Support Pod with 18 IcePod missions planned compared to three missions last season," said Lt. Col. Blair Herdrick, the 139th Airlift Squadron's Antarctic operations chief. "IcePod is a project by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York. The IcePod project utilizes the Common Science Support Pod to house a variety of instruments to measure changes in the Antarctic ice sheet."
The IcePod missions were flown for the first time in Antarctica last season, and were deemed one of the biggest successes of the year.
The 109th AW has been supporting the NSF's South Pole research since 1988. Since 1999, the unit has been the sole provider of this type of airlift to the NSF and U.S. Antarctic Program research efforts.