Air crews from the 109th Airlift Wing out of Stratton Air National Guard Base began on Friday their annual trek to Antarctica, where they will spend the next four months supporting the National Science Foundation.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was on a mission of her own Friday in Syracuse. She is working with state and local leaders on strategies to maintain and expand military bases in New York such as Stratton.
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. The party will reach McMurdo Oct. 24. During the course of Operation Deep Freeze, now in its 23rd year, seven LC-130s and 26 crews, totaling 240 people, will rotate in and out of McMurdo, spending about three weeks at the station.
The 109th will fly approximately 400 missions, or about seven per day, and will fly 12 hours a day, six days a week. In all, the unit will haul around 12 million pounds of fuel, cargo and people to and from 20 science and research stations on the ice.
October is the earliest the planes can deploy to the South Pole because of 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 planes use the latest navigational equipment and will be testing a crevasse-detecting 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 crevasse detector will give crews advanced notice of hidden traps in the deep snow before they land. Sander said one LC-130 got a ski wheel stuck in a crevasse years ago.
The maintenance crews normally attain 95 percent reliability status for the aircraft, which log 4,000 hours of flying time during the 16-week season, said 109th spokeswoman Lt. Col. Jody Ankabrandt.
While there, the 109th may be asked to evacuate the manager of the U.S. South Pole station, who suffered a stroke more than a month ago. Site manager Renee-Nicole Douceur has sought evacuation since she said she suffered a stroke on Aug. 27. The physician at the U.S.-run Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station recommended her immediate evacuation. But consulting doctors hired by Raytheon and the NSF disagreed, and officials balked at sending planes sooner because of poor weather conditions.
‘Save and grow stratton’
Gillibrand’s conference was called “Strengthening New York’s Military Communities.” She invited retired military leaders who had been through the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission and local community leaders, such as Ray Gillen, chairman of the Metroplex Development Authority.
Stratton was on the 2005 BRAC list but was later removed.
Gillibrand is on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Gillen said there is no BRAC legislation pending in Congress, but the 12-member congressional “super committee” is looking to trim billions of dollars from the federal budget and such cuts could affect military bases.
“Our main mission is to save and grow Stratton. It has 1,400 jobs and has a $400 million economic impact in Schenectady County,” Gillen said.
He said Gillibrand is trying to get federal, state and local officials working together on a unified strategy should there be a threat to military bases in the state.