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Operation Deep Freeze sees end of C-141 Starlifter era

by Master Sgt. Chuck Roberts
Air Force Print News

1/31/2005 - CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand  -- The gateway to the highest, driest and coldest continent on earth remains wide open and actively engaged by Airmen deployed supporting Operation Deep Freeze.

Since late August, Air Force LC-130 Hercules equipped with skis have flown more than 330 sorties supporting the U.S. Antarctic Program which allows scientists from around the world to conduct research at McMurdo Station located on Ross Island.

"Airmen love this mission," said Col. Tye Beasely, commander for Support Forces Antarctica. "You get a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day. You can see the results," he said. The program these Airmen support includes research that includes the discovery of meteorites, new fossils and breakthrough discoveries on holes in the ozone layer.

"It's like you're helping rewrite textbooks. It's a good feeling."

LC-130s from the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing at Scotia, have flown cargo and scientists from McMurdo to remote sites throughout Antarctica such as the South Pole. Besides the LC-130s, whose skis allow the cargo planes to take off and land on snow and ice, C-17 Globemaster IIIs and C-141 Starlifters have supported the mission by flying passengers and supplies from Support Forces Antarctica headquarters here to McMurdo.

Since August, aircraft moved thousands of passengers and millions of pounds of cargo. C-17s got the season under way by ferrying supplies, scientists and workers from Christchurch to McMurdo to relieve the small core of people who reside at McMurdo through the winter.

After that operation, dubbed Winfly, was completed, C-141s have since provided rotator service for passengers and equipment from New Zealand to McMurdo where they land on both a hard-packed snow runway and frozen-sea ice runway. The LC-130s are vital to the operation because they are able to land on more unstable runways of snow and ice. Their service made possible the construction of the new research facility in the South Pole. Every piece of the new site has been delivered by LC-130s.

"We're the gateway to Antarctica," Colonel Beasley said, adding that the mission has gone smoothly so far. It will conclude with the redeployment of about 1,000 temporary residents of McMurdo by the end of February. That is when the summer season ends and average winter temperatures of minus-70 degrees begin setting in.

The season has not been without a few interesting twists, however. A large section of a nearby iceberg has broken free and currently lies anchored in the vicinity of McMurdo Sound. The sound is the entry point for U.S. Coast Guard ice-breaker ships that chisel a path for supply ships providing critical wintertime fuel and supplies.

The iceberg currently poses no threat to access to the sound. However, after plowing a pathway through the ice, one of the ice breakers incurred problems with its propeller and was in dock for repairs until Jan. 19. It is currently circling near the coast where the rustic metal buildings that make up McMurdo Station rest on a hillside underneath Mount Eribis with its plume of smoke rising from the active volcano.

This season marks the end of an era for the C-141s, which have supported the operation since the 1960s. They are being taken out of the Air Force inventory and will be replaced next year by C-17s. The season also marks the closure of a small detachment of Airmen permanently assigned to Christchurch. Those functions, such as information management and logistics, now will be handled by seasonal augmentees who will arrive alongside traditional augmentees such as the first sergeant position and maintainers. Also, future operations will fall under the leadership of U.S. Pacific Command instead of U.S. Transportation Command.

The changes should be seamless, Colonel Beasley said, and the fun and reward will remain the same for Airmen who will deploy supporting the unique mission.

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