By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Catharine Schmidt
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 15, 2008 - The 109th Airlift Wing is preparing to begin its 20th year of Operation Deep Freeze, supporting the National Science Foundation in Antarctica. Two ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules transports will take off Oct. 27, followed by two more LC-130s and a C-5 Galaxy from the 105th Airlift Wing at Stewart Air National Guard Base, N.Y., on Oct. 28.
The aircraft will carry maintenance equipment, such as engines and propellers. Crews will spend a few days in New Zealand setting up their base of operations, and then will head down to McMurdo Station in Antarctica to get things going there, said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joe Axe, a loadmaster with the 139th Airlift Squadron who works in the Antarctic Operations Office.
"Once we're established in Antarctica, the first mission we'll do is to open the South Pole," Axe said. "We'll take about 50 people. That first day will be about three or four trips just to get the South Pole going."
This season, financial challenges have lessened the missions required for the unit.
"This season we're doing about two-thirds of what we usually do; we're only doing five [sorties] a day vs. eight," Axe said. "I'm hoping to get somewhere around 8 million pounds of cargo moved at a minimum. Our best season was 14 million. "
Another change this season is a test of new, eight-bladed LC-130 propellers. If everything checks out OK on the test aircraft, it will be added to the rotation, Axe said.
"We're hoping the tests go well and get done fast and it can be proven that the aircraft is more fuel-efficient," he said. "During the testing phase, it will be flying its own separate missions, taking a little bit of cargo and increasing that each time."
Crews started preparing for this season even before last season was finished. They gather information during each Deep Freeze and send it up the chain so improvements can be made for the next season.
"As we enter our 20th year supporting Operation Deep Freeze, the one constant in an ever-changing environment is the attitude of our airmen and their dedication to completing the mission," said Air Force Col. Anthony German, 109th Airlift Wing commander.
"The work ethic required to be successful in the environments we work in is the defining characteristic that led us to being selected as the best flying unit in the Air National Guard," he said.
There are different challenges each season and, this year, the challenges are financial, German said. "We will fly less missions, deploy less people and consolidate jobs in a number of areas, but in the end we will continue to serve the National Science Foundation in the same professional manner they are accustomed to. I look forward to the upcoming season with great confidence in all of our airmen to make this yet another successful season."
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Catharine Schmidt serves with the New York National Guard.)