by Courtesy Story
3/22/2013 - STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Scotia, N.Y. -- Several
Capital Region aircrew members of the New York Air National Guard's
109th Airlift Wing returned to Schenectady County Airport here Thursday
night after a long trip back from Antarctica.
The unit's redeployment marks the 25th anniversary of Antarctic operations for the 109th Airlift Wing.
The return of the final "skibird" marks the official end of the unit's
support to Operation Deep Freeze for this year and a milestone for the
The 109th Airlift Wing made its first trip to Antarctica in January
1988, supporting the Navy mission at the time. The wing made its first
full year of Antarctic operations in 1989.
Since then, the 109th completed 25 seasons of flying in one of the
harshest environments in the world with an accomplished safety record,
resulting in no fatalities or excessive aircraft damage. While operating
in this hazardous region, the wing completed a 10-year average of more
than 3,000 flying hours each Antarctic season, more than most Air Force
units complete in an entire year of operations.
Antarctic operations for the 109th have evolved over the years. In 1988
the unit deployed two aircraft, assisting the Navy, which had supported
the South Pole mission since 1969. The Navy transferred that mission to
the Air Force in 1989 and since that time the 109th Airlift Wing has
been responsible for all the heavy airlift on the continent.
"We started out doing just pole missions with the Navy handling the camp
lifts," said Senior Master Sgt. Mike Messineo, a flight engineer who
served on the first mission in 1988. "All the crew used to be together
in one room in bunk beds. We called it the ant farm."
Flight operations in Antarctica are conducted in support of the U.S.
Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation
(NSF). Through the Division of Polar Programs in its Geoscience
division, NSF coordinates all U.S. research on the southernmost
continent and aboard vessels in the Southern Ocean. The agency is also
responsible for providing all of the logistical support required to
carry out that research.
"When we go out to the deep field there are always challenges," said
Maj. Joseph J. DeConno, an LC-130 navigator and chief of current
operations. "A great deal of hard work goes into planning and executing
every deep field mission but it pays off knowing we are supporting the
NSF with new discoveries all over the continent! It's some of the most
challenging flying I've ever experienced and every flight is unique," he
The 109th has played an integral part establishing the remote camps,
often the first aircraft and personnel to ever arrive in that part of
the continent. Over the past 25 years, the 109th Airlift Wing helped
establish more than 100 remote sites for exploration and research. This
year, 14 sites were active, including South Pole Station. Sustainment of
these remote locations requires the capability of the heavy airlift
aircraft to provide enough fuel, equipment and supplies to keep
researchers safe and able to conduct their work. All of the field camps
and the South Pole Station require ski take-offs and landings and many
have ungroomed surfaces, supportable only by the skibirds of the 109th
An example of the capability of the LC-130 skirbird is the South Pole
Station. Completed in 2008, nearly all of the construction material
needed to build the station was carried in by the 109th. To complete the
station, the wing flew more than 925 flights transporting more than 24
million pounds of cargo.
This year's 2012-13 season, the 109th Airlift Wing completed 310 total
missions, flying 2,219 hours and transporting 6.4 million pounds of
cargo and fuel, the equivalent weight of 428 adult male African
elephants. The wing also airlifted 3,602 passengers to and around the
An unprecedented wind storm buried the primary landing field near
McMurdo Station on Dec. 7, 2012, and a dark layer of mineral dust caused
roads and the airfield to deteriorate. Conditions became unstable for
the wheeled aircraft that normally support the station, such as the U.S.
Air Force C-17 or the Australian Antarctic Program's Airbus A-319. All
transportation to and from the continent was left in the hands of the
109th Airlift Wing for the next seven weeks.
"We always encounter obstacles during the challenging Deep Freeze
season, but this year's were significant because of the unusual natural
event that cut off the continent from normal support," said Pacific Air
Force Maj. Gen. Russell J. Hardy, Director of Operations, Plans,
Requirement and Programs. "The LC-130s stepped up, proving that military
support to the U.S. Antarctic program is vital."
The 109th Airlift Wing deployed six ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft to
Antarctica in late October 2012, the start of the summer season at the
South Pole and based at the McMurdo Station. Crews fly from the Sea Ice
Runway or Pegasus Field airstrips.
"I am continually impressed with the professionalism and performance of
the members of the 109th," said Maj. Blair Herdick, LC-130 navigator and
chief of Antarctic operations at the wing. "This year was a
particularly challenging year for us due to the number of deep field
open snow camps, weather, supporting an increased number of flights
between Christchurch and McMurdo and the deteriorated conditions of
Pegasus Field. We overcame all of these challenges and had another
successful year. I am more proud than ever to be a member of the 109th."