109th embarks on annual mission to Antarctica

The first LC-130 took off today for California, one of five legs on a 10,000-mile-long trip to McMur

Air crews from the 109th Airlift Wing out of Stratton Air National Guard Base began their annual trek to Antarctica Friday where they will spend the next four months supporting the National Science Foundation.

The first LC-130 took off from the base around 10 a.m. for California, the first leg of five on a 10,000-mile-long trip to McMurdo Station at the South Pole.

The advance party, headed by mission commander Lt. Col. Chris Sander, consists of 19 personnel from the air base and one ski-equipped, four-engine Hercules. They will reach McMurdo on Oct. 24.

During the course of the Operation Deep Freeze, now its in 23rd year, seven LC-130 and 26 crews, totaling 240 people, will rotate in and out, spending one month on station. The 109th will fly approximately 400 missions, or about seven per day, 12 hours a day, six days a week, to seven science and research stations on the ice. In all, they will haul some 12 million pounds of fuel, cargo and people — all generally without mishap.

October is the earliest the planes can fly to the South Pole due to weather conditions. It is now spring there and temperatures are 20 below zero at the coast and 50 below zero at the pole. The pole itself is at an elevation of 12,000 feet, requiring crews to wear oxygen masks during the flight.

“It is a dry cold,” Sander said, “but it is very beautiful down there.”

The 109th’s plans use the latest navigational equipment and will be testing for the first time a crevice detector device and an eight-blade propeller on the planes. The new blade will provide the planes with more control and power on takeoff.

The LC-130 is currently equipped with a four-blade propeller. The crevice detector will give crews advance notice of hidden traps in the deep snow before they land. Sander said one LC-130 got a ski wheel stuck in a crevice years ago.

The maintenance crews normally attain 95 percent reliability status for the aircraft, which log in total 4,000 hours of flying time during the 16-week season, said 109th spokeswoman Lt. Col. Jody Ankabrandt.

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