USAF C-17 Polar Airdrop Capability Successful
by Lt. Col. Toni Kemper
13th Air Force Public Affairs
C-17 Polar Airdrop Capability Successful
Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii -- During the winter season at the South Pole, temperatures often dip as low as minus 100 F and can paralyze an aircraft's hydraulic systems, crystallize the fuel and solidify lubricants.
However, freezing temperatures did not deter Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica Operation Deep Freeze crews and support personnel from validating the C-17 Globemaster III's polar airdrop capability by successfully airdropping 22,372 pounds of supplies to the South Pole Dec. 18.
Twenty containerized delivery system bundles were delivered in two passes of 10 bundles each. The mission was a combined effort of JTF-SFA, 62nd Airlift Wing, 446th Airlift Wing, National Science Foundation and Raytheon Polar Services Corporation personnel.
Airdrop operations were executed at approximately 10,700 feet above sea level and crew members were on oxygen for the unpressurized airdrop sequence. Elevation at the South Pole is approximately 9,300 feet above sea level.
"This is an extremely challenging mission, both for the aircrew and the aircraft," said Lt. Col. Jim McGann, the commander of the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron based in Christchurch, New Zealand. "But it's an absolute critical capability and a skill set we need to exercise on a regular basis to ensure we can execute an emergency airdrop on the South Pole within hours of an NSF request."
This is the second consecutive year that crews have demonstrated this capability. The first C-17 airdrop of supplies to the South Pole was successfully completed on Dec. 19, 2006. Approximately 70,000 pounds of supplies were delivered during that milestone mission.
"This mission is testimony to the flexibility and reach of airpower," said Lt. Gen. Loyd S. "Chip" Utterback, JTF-SFA commander. "The airlift, sealift and ground support capability executed by an integrated total force team operating in an unforgiving and unique environment make Operation Deep Freeze a one-of-a-kind mission."
By validating the C-17 capability to complete airdrop missions at the Geographical South Pole, JTF-SFA demonstrated its ability to provide mid-winter emergency re-supply and flexible support to the National Science Foundation and U.S. Antarctica Program. The ability to airdrop supplies using the C-17 versus the LC-130 Hercules, which is the traditional platform 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.
The extreme temperature, 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.
Operation Deep Freeze is a unique 13th Air Force-led joint and total force mission that has supported the NSF and USAP since 1955. The 2007-2008 season kicked off Aug. 20. C-17 flights from Christchurch staged essential personnel and equipment at McMurdo station to prepare the ice runway for the main C-17 and LC-130 operations which began Oct. 2. Main season resupply consists of C-17 intercontinental flights between Christchurch and McMurdo and LC-130 flights from McMurdo to the South Pole and other camps throughout Antarctica.
As of Dec. 17, C-17s have delivered 2,689,462 pounds of cargo and passengers to McMurdo, and LC-130s have delivered 3,966,416 pounds of cargo, fuel and passengers to research facilities throughout Antarctica. Vessel resupply operations begin in January when Military Sealift Command vessels deliver fuel and supplies to McMurdo Port.
Operation Deep Freeze is unlike any other U.S. military operation and is one of the most demanding peacetime missions due to the extreme adversity of the environment and the remoteness of Antarctica. Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, driest, highest and most inhospitable continent on the globe.
The U.S. military is uniquely equipped to assist the National Science Foundation in the accomplishment of its mission to explore Antarctica, and the 613th Air and Space Operations Center at Hickam has the capability to provide joint operational and logistics support to the NSF around the clock. Operation Deep Freeze involves active-duty and reserve C-17s from McChord Air Force Base, Wash., New York Air National Guard ski-equipped LC-130s, U.S. Coast Guard and/or commercial icebreakers, and the U.S. Navy Cargo Handling Battalion One provides port services at McMurdo Station.