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Fri, Dec 22, 2006

C-17s Complete First-Ever Drop At South Pole

70,000 Lbs. Of Supplies Delivered

Aero-News has learned an impressive airpower milestone was reached December 20, with the completion of the first C-17 Globemaster III airdrop mission that delivered about 70,000 pounds of supplies to the South Pole.

The airdrop's success is due to the combined effort of people from Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica Operation Deep Freeze; the 62nd Airlift Wing; the 446th Airlift Wing; the 82nd Airborne Division; the Royal New Zealand Defense Force; the National Science Foundation; and Raytheon Polar Services Corporation.

By validating the C-17 capability of conducting an airdrop at the geographical South Pole, JTF-SFA's Operation Deep Freeze demonstrated its ability to provide mid-winter emergency re-supply and flexible support to the National Science Foundation and U.S. Antarctica Program. Operation Deep Freeze is a unique joint and total force mission that first anchored U.S. national policy in Antarctica in 1955.

The ability to airdrop supplies using the C-17 -- versus the ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules, the traditional aircraft used to airland supplies on the ice -- allows aircrews to deliver up to four times as much supplies in a single airdrop mission in conditions that do not allow airland missions.

During the winter season at the South Pole, temperatures often dip as low as minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit. That can paralyze an aircraft's hydraulic systems, crystallize the fuel and solidify lubricants. Around-the-clock darkness and crosswinds up to 60 miles per hour create blizzard conditions and zero visibility, making it impossible for an aircraft to land.

A medical emergency in 1999 highlighted the need to maintain a mid-winter airdrop resupply capability to sites in Antarctica. In that year, Dr. Jeri Nielsen, the only physician at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, critically needed medical supplies to treat her tele-medically diagnosed cancer. An LC-130 airland mission was not possible before October, so NSF requested and funded an Air Mobility Command out-of-cycle airdrop of medical supplies to the South Pole station.

A C-141, with a handpicked aircrew from the 62nd AW and 446th AW from Washington's McChord Air Force Base, was called to execute the aerial delivery. The nearly 50-flying-hour mission was described by then-AMC commander Gen. Charles T. Robertson Jr., as "a truly heroic effort."

The 2006-2007 Operation Deep Freeze kicked off in August with C-17 flights from Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo Station to stage essential personnel and equipment to prepare the ice runway for the main C-17 and LC-130 operations. Main body resupply consists of C-17 intercontinental flights between ChristChurch and McMurdo Station and LC-130 flights from McMurdo to South Pole and other camps throughout Antarctica.

Up to two C-17s based at Christchurch fly missions as required each week while up to nine LC-130s, depending on mission requirements, fly multiple daily missions daily from their hub at McMurdo Station.

Vessel re-supply operations consist of two Military Sealift Command vessels delivering fuel and supplies to McMurdo Station. In early January, prior to the MSC vessels' arrival, the US Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea will cut a channel through miles of ice allowing the ships access to the McMurdo Ice Pier.

The US Navy ran the first Operation Deep Freeze mission in 1955 for exploration and scientific research and began supporting the National Science Foundation's research in Antarctica in 1959. The operation has evolved into a huge logistical effort, moving passengers and cargo for the NSF's research facilities in Antarctica.

(Aero-News thanks Armed Forces Print News for its report)

FMI: www.af.mil

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