109th to support science missions in Antarctica

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jaclyn Lyons
  • New York National Guard

The New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing launches its 32nd year of support of U.S. Antarctic Program research Oct. 28, 2019, when the first of five LC-130 "Skibird" aircraft depart on the weeklong trip to the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station.

The 109th Airlift Wing flies the largest ski-equipped aircraft in the world, which are capable of landing on ice or snow and transport people, equipment and supplies to stations across the continent. The National Science Foundation manages the Antarctic Program.

The 109th Airlift Wing provides support to the Antarctic Program as part of Operation Deep Freeze. The military's Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica employs sealift and airlift to deliver supplies and personnel to Antarctica.

During the 2019-2020 support season, which runs through February 2020 for the 109th Airlift Wing, about 500 Airmen are expected to deploy. Some 120 of them will be "on the ice" at any one time. The wing anticipates conducting 160 missions, included logistical support for research in West Antarctica. Scientists are studying ice loss in glaciers in that section of the continent.

"The 2019-2020 Operation Deep Freeze season marks the 60th anniversary of the Antarctic treaty and the 32nd year that the 109th has supported this mission," said Col. Michele Kilgore, 109th Airlift Wing commander. "Operating in extreme weather is no easy task. Our 109th Airlift Wing Airmen are experts and continually rise to complete the mission in the most efficient and safest way."

During the 2018-2019 season, 109th Airmen completed 242 missions within Antarctica.

The 109th Airlift Wing transported 2,100 researchers and support staff plus about 2.8 million pounds of cargo and 1.8 million pounds of fuel to research stations across the continent.

During the 2018-2019 support season, scientists launched the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration in West Antarctica. This is a project to research one of the most unstable glaciers in Antarctica. Supporting this project required a significant logistics effort by the Airmen of the 109th.

The unique capabilities of the ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft make it the only one of its kind in the U.S. military able to land on snow and ice. A foundational mission of the 109th Airlift Wing is to provide airlift within Antarctica, flying to various remote locations from McMurdo Station.

Crews will transport scientists, fuel, medical supplies and more throughout the season. Maintenance personnel will also endure harsh conditions while working outside with limited facilities to keep the aircraft ready.