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Air Force Conducts Early Ice Flight

Air Force Conducts Early Ice Flight

A RNZAF P-3K Orion lands at the McMurdo ice runway.


A Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P-3K Orion will return from Antarctica this evening after responding to a request from the United States National Science Foundation (NSF) and the United States Air Force (USAF).

A request by the NSF to Antarctic New Zealand quickly led to the RNZAF P-3K Orion being scrambled to the ice with spares and three USAF maintenance engineers onboard. A USAF C-17 Globemaster had been stranded on the continent with a minor mechanical issue involving a faulty fuel control unit since Sunday.

Under the established Emergency Recovery Support agreement between the NSF and Antarctic New Zealand, and with USAF C-130 Hercules crews still based in the United States, the RNZAF was called on to assist.

With the fleet of the RNZAF’s primary Antarctic support aircraft, the C-130 Hercules, currently on operations in Timor Leste or undergoing a life extension upgrade in Canada, a P-3K Orion and crew were prepared for the flight yesterday afternoon.

The RNZAF has regularly conducted flights to the ice with the P-3K Orion since early 2006, usually in conjunction with routine patrolling of the southern ocean.

“While it is early in the season for the Air Force to be flying to the ice and by its very nature there is some risk involved with Antarctic operations, our crews are well trained and have three years of P-3K ice experience to call upon,” said Air Component Commander, Air Commodore Gavin Howse.

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“The NSF, USAF, Antarctic New Zealand, and the RNZAF have a great working relationship. As an exercise in international co-operation it was fantastic that we were able to assist. It is also nice to know that should we find ourselves in a similar situation we can rely on their support,” Air Commodore Howse said.

The Commander of the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron of the USAF Lieutenant Colonel Jim McGann was grateful of the outstanding support of Antarctic New Zealand and the RNZAF.

“I’d like to acknowledge and give special thanks to Antarctic New Zealand and to the RNZAF’s Number 5 Squadron P-3 Orion and crew for answering our request for assistance so quickly.

“Their efforts reduced the C-17 ground time by a whopping 72 hours minimum. They were simply phenomenal,” Lieutenant Colonel McGann said.

The USAF C-17 has returned to Christchurch and has already begun scheduled flights back to the ice.

The first RNZAF C-130 Hercules flights to Antarctica in support of Antarctic New Zealand will begin in early January next year.


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