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Antarctic Development Squadron (VXE) 6
"Ice Pirates"

One of the Navy's most unusual--and well-known--squadrons was deactivated after 44 years of service. Antarctic Development Squadron (VXE) 6 was deactivated in a 27 March 1999 ceremony (effective 1 April) at NAS Point Mugu, Calif. Cdr. David W. Jackson was the last CO of the Ice Pirates.

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. The squadron had its roots in Operation High Jump, an extensive aerial survey conducted in December 1946 by RAdm. Richard E. Byrd as his fourth Antarctic expedition. VX-6 began its first deployment in support of Operation Deep Freeze, as the exploration effort became known, in November 1955. The squadron completed nine long-range exploration flights and transported the personnel and materials needed to construct Little America Base Camp, the naval air operations facility at Hut Point, and South Pole Station. Upon return from its first deployment, the squadron changed its home base to NAS Quonset Point, RI.

Over the first 15 years of operations, VX-6 flew a variety of aircraft: R4D-5L/6L (LC-47H/J) Skytrains, R4D-8L (LC-117D) Skytroopers, R5D-3 (C-54Q) Skymasters, R7V-1/1P (C-121J) Constellations, P-2V-2N and P2V-5L (LP-2J) Neptunes, UC-1 (U-1B) Otters and HUS-1A (UH-34E) and HUS-1L (LH-34D) Seahorse helicopters. 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. UH-1D "Hueys" augmented the LH-34Ds in 1970, but both types were replaced by the UH-1N (later HH-1N) helicopter beginning in 1972. The HH-1Ns were operated by VXE-6 until replaced in April 1996 by contractor-operated helicopters.

VX-6 was redesignated VXE-6 on 1 January 1969. Its nickname, the Puckered Penguins, eventually became the Ice Pirates. The squadron's home base changed to NAS Point Mugu in 1974.

VXE-6's annual deployments to Antarctica, staged from its detachment site in Christchurch, New Zealand, accomplished many "firsts." In 1955, two P2V-2Ns and two R5D-3s forged the first air link between Christchurch and McMurdo Station. In 1956, an R4D named Que Sera Sera became the first aircraft to land at the South Pole. In 1958, a UC-1 made the first "wheels on dirt" landing in Antarctica. In 1961, the squadron made its first mid-winter fly-in, in this case to evacuate a Soviet scientist from Byrd Station. In 1964, an LC-130F conducted the first flight from Capetown, South Africa, to McMurdo Station; the first U.S. flight to the Soviet station at Vostok; and the first demonstration of Trimetrogon photography to map the Antarctic continent. During Deep Freeze '90, a VXE-6 LC-130 made the first wheeled landing on a "blue ice" surface, near the Beardmore Glacier. In October 1991, an all-female crew flew an LC-130 to the South Pole for the first time to begin Deep Freeze '91.

VXE-6 was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for a 1978 mission during which it evacuated five Soviets critically injured in the crash of an IL-14 transport aircraft. The rescue flights covered 3,650 miles (round trip), about 24 hours of flight time.

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.

After the Navy shut down its Antarctic support force in March 1998, VXE-6 assisted the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing during its final season (19981999) in assuming the mission of Antarctic support. Raytheon Systems Company subsequently modified the squadron's three remaining LC-130Rs to Air Force LC-130H standards.

During its service, VXE-6 transported more than 195,000 passengers, 240 million pounds of dry cargo and almost 10 million gallons of fuel to sites in Antarctica. Twenty-five Navy personnel and one Marine died while carrying out the squadron's Antarctic operations.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:04:47 ZULU