109th Airlift Wing wraps up Antarctic research support

The New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing wrapped up its 33rd season of supporting U.S. science research in the Antarctic.

From November through February, the 73 Airmen and three LC-130 Hercules supported the United States Antarctic research efforts as part of Operation Deep Freeze, the Department of Defense’s annual support to the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic program.

The Airmen and aircraft were based at the Christchurch International Airport in Christchurch, New Zealand, after completing COVID-19 quarantine requirements for the country of New Zealand.

The planes and crews were on standby in New Zealand instead of basing at the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station. They returned to Stratton Air National Guard Base outside Schenectady Feb. 24-27.

Normally, the 109th AW sends six to seven planes and around 250 Airmen to McMurdo Station during the support season, which runs from October until March, the summer months in Antarctica.

This season, the crews based in New Zealand had only flown to the Antarctic to conduct missions as needed to minimize the chance of the coronavirus getting loose in the enclosed environments of Antarctic research stations.

“The season was a lot different this year,” said Master Sgt. Mike Hill, LC-130 crew chief. “We ran Operation Deep Freeze from New Zealand, not your typical routine. When a plane flew, it had two augmented crews so they could fly down and come back on the same day,”

Eventually, the 109th AW Airmen completed six missions in Antarctica. They flew three medevac missions, transported 148 researchers and support staff, and delivered 63,000 pounds of critical cargo to research stations within the continent.

“The trip in all was great, successful and out of the ordinary,” Hill said.

Col. Christian Sander, 109th AW commander, deployed as the Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica commander and also as the 13th Air Expeditionary Group commander.

“Our Airmen rose to the challenge of having a smaller deployed footprint, intense COVID(-19) safety protocols and uncertain mission requirements, making this season unlike any other,” Sander said. “Despite these limitations, the unit was able to safely provide critical supplies and essential personnel to McMurdo Station during a time when no other aircraft could.”

The 109th AW LC-130’s are the largest aircraft in the world that can land on snow and ice using skis. They can land on the runway when wheeled aircraft cannot.

Operation Deep Freeze, the military component of the U.S. Antarctic Program, is managed by the National Science Foundation.

A New York Air National Guard Airman on duty in Antarctica on Feb. 5, 2021, during a mission conducted in support of the National  Science Foundation by the 109th Airlift Wing. The 109th Airlift Wing deployed three LC-130

A New York Air National Guard Airman poses for a photo in Antarctica, Feb. 5, 2021, during a mission conducted in support of the National Science Foundation by the 109th Airlift Wing. The 109th AW deployed three LC-130 Hercules and 50 Airmen to Christchurch, New Zealand, to run missions to Antarctica as part of the Department of Defense’s Operation Deep Freeze. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Mike Hill)

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