LC-130 airlift is necessary for the movement of personnel and cargo vital to the conduct of the US Antarctic Program's scientific research at international sites throughout the Antarctic continent including the United States Admunsen-Scott South Pole Station.
The standard C-130, on wheels only, first flew to Antarctica in late 1959. The C-130 Hercules (prototype first flown in August 1954, production model first flown in April 1955) has gone through many stages of development. The C-130H has four 4500-hp Allison turboprops, an MTW of 175,000 lb and a 300-knot cruising speed. Passenger amenities have remained at cattle-truck standards for over three decades.
The LC-130 is the largest aircraft to be fitted with retractable ski-wheels. The main skis are 20 ft (5.1 m) long and 5.5 ft (1.7 m) wide. The nose ski is 10 ft (3 m) long and 5.5 ft (1.7 m) wide. The complete ski set weighs 2.8 tons (2.5 tonne). With full bearing in soft snow, the contact pressure is about 4 lbf/in.2 (28 kPa). The original ski installation was first test-flown in 1957 and completed in 1958; twelve modified aircraft were delivered to the USAF in the first order. In its present form the C-130 ski-wheel modification is not a simple retrofit but rather a major modification of the gear and airframe. For aircraft bigger and faster than the C-130, ski modification seems unattractive and probably prohibitively expensive.
The Navy's Antarctic Development Squadron (VXE) 6 originally was established on 17 January 1955 at NAS Patuxent River, Md., as Air Development Squadron Six (VX) 6 in conjunction with the Navy's evolving role of providing support for scientific exploration on the Antarctic continent. Beginning in 1961, four ski-equipped UV-1L (C-130BL, later LC-130F) Hercules transports were added, dramatically increasing the squadron's lift capability. The LC-130Fs were augmented during the early 1970s by six LC-130R versions. At this time, the LC-130 became the only fixed-wing aircraft type operated by the squadron, with the exception of an EC-130Q and TC-130Q used for crew training during the early 1990s.
During Deep Freeze '88, an LC-130F that had been buried in ice and snow since a 1971 mishap was recovered and eventually restored to service. Unfortunately, an LC-130R involved in the recovery effort crashed, killing several squadron crewmen, accenting the unforgiving nature of flight over Antarctica.
The LC-130 Hercules with ski-wheels is used in Antarctica to supply inland stations and support field parties. By the early 1990s LC-130R machines, plus two of the older LC-130F, made up the USAP fleet of six ski-wheel transports. The aircraft are owned by NSF and were operated by the USN (VXE-6). The 109th TAG, NYANG, has four LC-130Hs of more recent vintage. Raytheon Systems Company had modifyied the Navy's three remaining LC-130Rs to Air Force LC-130H standards.
The New York Air Guard's 109th Airlift Wing, Schenectady, NY provides logistical support to the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is administered by the NSF. The 109th AW is the only organization in the world that flies the ski-equipped LC-130s, which are the only aircraft capable of landing at the South Pole at this time of year. There are only seven such aircraft in the world. The Air National Guard outfit has been flying people and supplies on its specially equipped planes to Arctic and Antarctic outposts since 1975.
The New York Air National Guard ski-equipped LC-130 unit inherited a historic responsibility in assuming the mission of airlift support for science in Antarctica when DoD and the National Science Foundation (NSF) signed a Memorandum of Agreement on March 26, 1998. The agreement, carrying signatures from senior representatives of the Department, the Air Force , the Navy , US Transportation Command, National Guard Bureau and the NSF, completeds a three-year transition of program responsibility for LC-130 operations from the Navy to the 109th AW.
The agreement signing was the last in a series of events which complete the airlift transition. Ceremonies held at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, Christchurch, New Zealand and Port Hueneme, Calif., symbolically brought closure to Navy oversight over logistic air support on the Antarctica continent which began with Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd's Operation Deep Freeze in 1955.
The lack of commercial capability to provide the kind of ski-equipped, fixed-wing air support required by the US Antarctic Program provided no commercialization opportunities for this function. The Navy and National Science Foundation discussed this requirement with other government agencies. The Coast Guard considered taking on the mission as an extension of their current C-130 operations. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has a fleet of aircraft that support science, also considered the mission. The National Science Foundation encouraged a close look at the Air National Guard for potential "single-point management" of fixed wing logistic support for Antarctica. The Air National Guard had already been augmenting Navy operations in Antarctica since 1988 with use of their own aircraft, and they also have had a complementary role of LC-130 logistic support in the Arctic since 1975.
During the 1998-99 Antarctic research season, the Navy's lone-remaining flying unit there, Antarctica Development Squadron Six (VXE-6), assisted the 109th AW, DoD's designated LC-130 airlift provider to the NSF. The 109th has operated in polar environments since 1975 and is the only LC-130 unit in the world flying the ski-equipped airlift aircraft in both the northern and southern polar regions. By February 1999 and the conclusion of the Antarctic season, they were the only operational LC-130 unit in the world. An LC-130 Hercules attached to Antarctic Development Squadron Six (VXE-6) mades the squadron's final departure from Williams Field, Antarctica, 17 February 1999. VXE-6 had supported Operation Deep Freeze over 44 years.
The New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing brought home the Royal International Air Tattoo 2000's Concourse d'Elegance Trophy for the best kept aircraft. The tattoo, held at Royal Air Force Cottesmore, United Kingdom, 19-24 July 2000, had more than 150 aircraft representing military forces from more than 30 countries competing. The 109th AW's LC-130 ski-equipped aircraft, City of Amsterdam, that routinely flies to the South Pole and Arctic Circle, received the award. Judging for the competition was based on the exterior of the aircraft -- its general appearance, cleanliness, paint condition, and finish. Judges also considered the aircraft's age, flying hours and operating environment in their decision.
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