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LC-130 Skibird aircrews train for polar operations

July 28, 2017 (by MSgt. Catharine Schmidt) - Having the world’s only ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft, commonly referred to as Skibirds, the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing is able to provide the airlift needed to get to remote locations in Antarctica and Greenland in support of the National Science Foundation.

SSgt. Kayla Ludivig, crew chief with the 109th AMXS, marshalls LC-130H #73-3300 Skibird before it takes off for Raven Camp, Greenland, on July 27, 2017. The 109th AW is currently in its fifth rotation of the Greenland season which started in April and will run through September. [ANG photo by SMSgt. William Gizara]

It's a mission unique to the wing and one that requires specialized training. While upstate New York, where the 109th Airlift Wing is based, is known to have some brutal winter weather, it still isn't enough to get these aircrews trained to land and take off on snow and ice.

That's where Raven Camp comes in. Located 108 miles southeast of Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, on the Greenland ice cap, the camp allows aircrews to get the specialized training required to fly in and out of some of the world's most austere locations. It's also the location of Kool School's field portion – three days to learn arctic survival skills.

With 50 training missions already completed since the Greenland season began in April, aircrews are well on their way to be ready to fly in Antarctica.

"We'll get them out to that snowfield, and we'll work on our takeoffs and landing," said Maj. Justin Garren, 139th Airlift Squadron's Greenland Operations chief. "We'll work on special procedures on the ground for the loadmasters to load and unload on the snow."

Maj. Dia Ham, a ski mission co-pilot student with the 139th Airlift Squadron, is no stranger to flying the traditional C-130 Hercules, but flying the Skibirds is something brand new to her. She transferred to the unit after about 10 years on active duty, and flew her first Skibird training mission on the ice cap July 27.

"There's a level of nervousness," she said about her first time flying to Raven Camp. "You plan for it and you hear the stories, but it was so exciting to finally see it myself with my own eyes and be in the seat."

Ham went on to say that while the procedures and steps they are taught to follow are expected, it still can't compare to landing on the snow for the first time.

"There's no way to change the steps that we follow or the procedures or the sequence of events – but you can't prepare for landing on skis," she said.

While aircrews are training on the flight deck, loadmasters are training in the back of the aircraft.

Because of the remote locations for some of the camps the wing supports, loadmasters must be able to perform combat offloads – offloading cargo while the aircraft is running with the ramp down 18 inches above the snow.

"It's very important to learn the technique and get it right," said Master Sgt. Randy Powell, a loadmaster instructor who has been training students this season.

"There's a lot you have to learn really quickly," said Airman 1st Class Taylor Richards, a student loadmaster who is currently on his second trip here this season. "The stuff that we do, they can't teach you in loadmaster school because it's only stuff that we do. There are only about 60 loadmasters in the unit, and we're the only ones in the world who do this, so there's a little bit of a learning curve."

"(Raven Camp) is where we do a lot of our practice and learning," Ham said. "Antarctica is all missions – there's no time to do multiple landings or try things out. The training here is so valuable."

The unit is currently in its fifth rotation of the Greenland season which began in April and will end in September. About 80 Airmen and three to four LC-130 aircraft are here for each rotation throughout the summer.

Courtesy of New York National Guard

Additional images:

USAF LC-130H #83-0490 "Skibird" from the NYANG's 109th AW based out of Stratton ANGB, takes off from a forward airfield known as Raven Camp near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland July 28, 2017. Raven Camp is used to train aircrews on LC-130 operations on skiways. [ANG photo by SMSgt. Willie Gizara]

Scientists who had been living near the Arctic Circle in Greenland for about six weeks board a 109th Airlift Wing LC-130H #83-0490 Skibird from the NYANG headed for redeployment to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland on July 29, 2017. [ANG photo by MSgt. Catharine Schmidt]