Military News

Monday, August 31, 2015

Team McChord boosts capabilities of USAP

by Senior Airman Madelyn McCullough
446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs


8/31/2015 - JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- The 446th and 62nd Airlift Wings are opening new doors for the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Antarctic Program with the use of night vision capabilities.

In June of this year, the first scheduled winter flight in 50 years proved successful when a C-17 successfully touched down at Pegasus Airfield, Antarctica, despite the complete absence of sunlight. Using night vision goggles, pilots were able to successfully navigate to and land safely on the runway without the help of LEDs. The aircraft dropped off passengers and cargo and even took a few people home. One month later, the crew did it again.

Traditionally, those who choose to stay once the last Operation Deep Freeze C-17 flies away in March also choose to stay for six months until WINFLY starts back up in August. Now, with the success of these two winter flights, a new idea is fortifying the foundation for drastic change.

To enable this transformation, the National Science Foundation, which manages the United States Antarctic Program, worked with the U.S. Air Force to use channel flights for their missions. These channel flights deliver cargo and passengers to various locations in the Pacific including New Zealand's neighbor Australia.

"The deployment and redeployment cost of getting a C-17 down here from McChord is substantial," said Lt. Col. Keith McMinn, 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron director of operations "That's why we're picking off an airplane from an existing mission just right across the street in Richmond, Australia."

The Air Force authorized USAP to borrow the jet for the June and July missions to McMurdo. To do this, the channel crew flew to Christchurch, New Zealand, where they met with a crew from McChord. While the channel crew took their crew rest, the ODF team flies five hours to McMurdo and five hours back. When the channel crew wakes up in the morning, their plane is back in place and ready to go.

Typically, this type of capability is only used for emergency medical evacuations and air drops, but this new system allows for much more.

Now, McMurdo can continue construction year round, McMinn said. The station is at max capacity during the peak season and needs to expand. With winter flights, they will be able to continue construction in the less congested off-season and will be able to send people for shorter periods of time. This way they don't have to pay them six months for a job that only takes one.

Along with facilitating year-round construction, the capability will expand the possibilities for scientific research.

"Now," McMinn said, "the NSF can get someone in and out of there to do shorter, more targeted research and do it in a way that's cost effective."

Aug. 23 marked the first WINFLY mission of the year using NVGs, successfully landing on the seasonal ice runway just a mile from McMurdo and proving even further that the new system will function as advertised. In fact, the preparation for next winter has already begun.

"It's a precedent-setting activity," said Paul Sheppard, the NSF Division of Polar Programs operations and logistics systems manager. "[The Antarctic Support Contract] is already planning on building it into the season plan for fiscal 2016."

"No longer do we have the mentality that the winter staff and the winter operation is a closed operation," said Michael Raabe, the ASC manager of transportation and logistics. "We have the ability to fly in and out year round. We become more of a mature operation that can dictate, in essence, to the continent what we want to do and not let the continent and the seasons dictate to us."

(The Antarctic Sun contributed to this article.)

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