February 25, 2015 (by TSgt. Catharine Schmidt) - New York Air National Guard Airmen flew 241 missions, delivering more than 3,000 passengers and 4.5 million pounds of cargo and fuel to research stations across Antarctica during a deployment to the southern continent that began in October 2014 and ends this week.
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James (second to the left) poses for a photo with aircrew from the 139th EAS in front of LC-130H #73-0839 during her visit with participants of Operation Deep Freeze, at McMurdo Station, Antarctica on January 25, 2015. [USAF courtesy photo]
This is the 27th year that the 109th Airlift Wing supported the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Program as part of Operation Deep Freeze, military logistics support for the research effort.
This mission season also saw the successful deployment of IcePod on the wing's LC-130 "Skibird" aircract, an imaging system that can measure the depth of an ice sheet.
"This was a great season for the 109th," said Lt. Col. Clifford Souza, 139th Airlift Squadron, who returned home with about 30 Airmen on Feb. 24. "We flew over 155 on-continent missions in Antarctica as well as intercontinental missions from New Zealand to Antarctica. We're glad to be back and have one more year under our belt."
The wing deployed about 575 Airmen and seven LC-130 ski-equipped aircraft to McMurdo Station, the hub of the American presence in Antarctica during the five-month support season. About 120 Airmen were at McMurdo Station at any given time, as Airmen rotated between Antarctica and the 109th AW's home in Scotia, New York.
The first LC-130 returned home with passengers Feb. 23 with more Airmen following throughout the week via C-17 Globemaster III. The final six LC-130s that were deployed and remaining Airmen are expected to return home within the next week. The unit's 27th season supporting the National Science Foundation began in October.
The unique capabilities of the ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft 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.
One of the biggest successes this year, though, was flying the IcePod missions for the first time in Antarctica.
"IcePod focuses on the development of an integrated ice imaging system that can measure in detail both the ice surface and the ice bed, helping in the understanding of why ice sheets are changing at such a rapid rate," said Lt. Col. Blair Herdrick in an earlier article, chief of Antarctic Operations at the 109th. "The system will be enclosed in a Common Science Support Pod (CSSP) mounted on the rear troop door of the LC-130. This will be the first operational use of the CSSP."
Crews flew nine flights total with the IcePod over a three-week period.
"These were the final tests before the IcePod is fully commissioned," said Maj. Joshua Hicks,a 139th Airlift Squadron pilot who flew the missions. "Overall it went very well. We completed what we needed to do."
The continued work supporting Operation Deep Freeze garnered attention from military leadership. Both Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Lt. Gen. Stanley Clarke III, Air National Guard director, visited Antarctica and the Airmen stationed there in January.
Maj. Marc McKeon, assistant chief of Antarctic Operations, said the people are what contribute to a successful season.
"People enjoy the mission," he said. "You have to enjoy what you do in order to be good at it. And we have some of the best maintainers and aircrew that the Air National Guard has to offer."