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C-17 makes its first South Pole airdrop

A C-17 Globemaster III drops pallets of cargo Dec. 20 during the first C-17 airdrop to the South Pole.  Airmen from the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., delivered 70 tons of supplies to the National Science Foundation team wintering there. The mission was a "proof of concept" flight for the C-17 and was part of Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica's Operation Deep Freeze.  (Raytheon Inc. photo/Forest Banks)

A C-17 Globemaster III drops pallets of cargo Dec. 20 during the first C-17 airdrop to the South Pole. Airmen from the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., delivered 70 tons of supplies to the National Science Foundation team wintering there. The mission was a "proof of concept" flight for the C-17 and was part of Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica's Operation Deep Freeze. (Raytheon Inc. photo/Forest Banks)

Pallets of cargo fall to the ice Dec. 20 during the first C-17 Globemaster III airdrop to the South Pole.  Airmen from the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., delivered 70 tons of supplies to the National Science Foundation team wintering there. The mission was a "proof of concept" flight for the C-17 and was part of Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica's Operation Deep Freeze.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt. Col. James McGann)

Pallets of cargo fall to the ice Dec. 20 during the first C-17 Globemaster III airdrop to the South Pole. Airmen from the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., delivered 70 tons of supplies to the National Science Foundation team wintering there. The mission was a "proof of concept" flight for the C-17 and was part of Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica's Operation Deep Freeze. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt. Col. James McGann)

A member of the National Science Foundation wintering in the Antarctic checks a cargo pallet airdropped by a C-17 Globemaster III Dec. 20.  Airmen from the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., delivered 70 tons of supplies to the team. The mission was a "proof of concept" flight for the C-17 and was part of Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica's Operation Deep Freeze.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt. Col. James McGann)

A member of the National Science Foundation wintering in the Antarctic checks a cargo pallet airdropped by a C-17 Globemaster III Dec. 20. Airmen from the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., delivered 70 tons of supplies to the team. The mission was a "proof of concept" flight for the C-17 and was part of Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica's Operation Deep Freeze. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt. Col. James McGann)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- A C-17 Globemaster III , flown by a McChord crew, made its debut airdrop to the South Pole, Antarctica Dec. 20.

This airdrop delivery gives McChord's joint active-duty and Reserve crew the opportunity to train and test the capabilities of the C-17 while supporting the National Science Foundation research facilities on "the Ice."

"The purpose of this mission is essentially a proof of concept; it gives proof that the airplane and systems are able to do an airdrop in the conditions present at the pole," Brig. Gen. Eric Crabtree, commander of the Air Force Reserve's 446th Airlift Wing said.

Lt. Col. James McGann, 62nd Operations Group deputy commander- Antarctica added, "It also validates our ability to support the National Science Foundation in the world's most hostile environment and gives the NSF another option in Antarctic logistics."

In July 1999, a McChord crew air dropped cancer treatment supplies for a National Science Foundation doctor stranded at the South Pole through the winter with the now retired C-141 Starlifter. This was the last mid-winter airdrop McChord crews made until today.

"This is a heavy equipment drop," said the drop zone control officer, Lt. Col. Greg Pyke, a Reserve C-17 pilot in the 97th Airlift Squadron here who helped plan the historic air drop. "There are four pallets containing supplies totaling approximately 70,000 pounds, dropped in a single pass."

The pallets of food were built by the Royal New Zealand Defense Force under the direction of the Army's 82nd Airborne stationed out of Fort Bragg, N.C.

"Dried foods, flour, and canned goods were dropped to hold the scientists who are 'wintering over' from February 15 to October 25 or so," said Colonel McGann, a veteran of Operation Deep Freeze support operations.

The Royal New Zealand Defense Force also helped on the ground at the drop zone by recovering the chutes used to drop the pallets. Lt. Col. Pyke and Senior Master Sergeant James Masura, a senior Reserve loadmaster with the 446th Airlift Wing, were at the South Pole for several days coordinating the air drop. Lt. Col. Pyke, who flew the 1999 airdrop as a captain, said that almost all of the National Science Foundation employees at the South Pole turned out to see the pallets delivered.

Although only five members of the crew actually dropped the supplies at the South Pole, the remaining nine members aboard became familiarized with the flying conditions at the pole.

"This ensures we have a large cadre of people qualified in the Antarctic airdrop mission, should the need arise to execute an emergency or requested drop," said Colonel McGann.

The airdrop has been in the planning stages since August 2006. The long range planning was needed because of the complexity of flying in the remote Antarctic region. South Pole temperatures range from -21 to -29 degrees Fahrenheit or -29 to -34 degrees Celsius. Those temperatures coupled with longitude, latitude and altitude cause technical challenges for man and machine.

"Navigation is more complex down there," said Capt. Jennie Steldt, the aircraft commander, an active duty pilot with the 10th Airlift Squadron. "Instruments in the plane work differently due to flying that close to the magnetic South Pole."

The elevation of the South Pole, which is 9,300 feet above sea level, is another challenge for aircrews, said Captain Steldt.

"We will have to drop 1,000 feet above that so the parachutes attached to the load have time to inflate," she said. "That means we'll be dropping above 10,000 feet in temperatures approximately -30 degrees Celsius."

"This Antarctic drop is an excellent show of the C-17's versatility," said Col. Shane Hershman, 62nd Airlift Wing vice commander. "No matter what the cargo is or where we're taking it, the C-17's flexibility continues to prove that it is the backbone of air mobility."