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C-130s hit the ice

by Tech. Sgt. Chris Vadnais
Air Force News Agency

10/18/2007 - HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii (AFPN) -- A pair of specially equipped C-130 Hercules aircraft, belonging to the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing, left here headed for Antarctica Oct. 17. 

The team hit the ice at McMurdo Statio, Antarctica, one of the coldest, windiest, most inhospitable places on the globe, as part of Operation Deep Freeze. 

The mission provides a challenging opportunity to demonstrate the reach and flexibility of airpower, the capabilities of the joint force and the integrated support of active duty, Guard and Reserve military members.  

Active duty and Reserve airlift support comes in the form of C-17 Globemaster IIIs from the 62nd Airlift Wing at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., which deliver heavy loads of equipment, people and supplies. 

Once the cargo arrives on the continent, the C-130 aircraft, fitted with special snow ski landing gears, distribute it to remote research posts throughout Antarctica.

"The skis are on swivels, basically," said Master Sgt. Cliff Devoe, a crew chief with the 109th. "When they hit, the skis just swivel right down, and a lot of times it's just a nice smooth glide."

Pilots can reverse the propellers after landing, which serves as a brake and helps stop the aircraft. 

But rough landings and sliding aren't as big a concern as the weather, unit leaders said. There are no hangars in Antarctica to protect the aircraft from the elements.

"Our mechanics turn the wrenches and fix them outside," said Maj. Cliff Souza, an C-130 pilot in his eighth year of Deep Freeze missions.

According to Major Souza, performing maintenance on the planes in the cold weather, then heating them up in preparation to fly them can cause problems.

"Hydraulic systems, fuels systems, it just all needs to be monitored closely," he said.

"But we usually don't have any problems. We've got some of the best maintenance guys in the Air Force taking care of our airplanes."

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 remoteness of Antarctica. The mission is an annual joint and total force operation supporting the National Science Foundation.

This deployment is part of an important commitment the U.S. has made to support the National Science Foundation, said Lt. Gen. Loyd S. "Chip" Utterback, the 13th Air Force and Joint Task Force commander, Support Forces Antarctica, Operation Deep Freeze.

"This mission has a very direct impact on the way we live today and the way we're going to live tomorrow," said Lt. Gen. Utterback. "The science that's coming out of the efforts that these people enable through Support Forces Antarctica will make a difference in our lives sooner rather than later," he said. 

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