An LC-130 Hercules aircraft destined for the South Pole took off from Stratton Air National Guard Base Oct. 18, signaling the start of the 109th Airlift Wing’s 26th season in support of Operation Deep Freeze.
Due to fiscal constraints, the 109th Airlift Wing will complete fewer missions to Antarctica this season, said commander Col. Shawn Clouthier in a news release.
A total of six ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft will be deployed from October to February to support the National Science Foundation’s research. The planes will move supplies and people to field camps across Antarctica and to the South Pole station.
About 120 Air National Guard members will be deployed at any one time to Operation Deep Freeze, with a total of about 700 personnel rotations occurring over the entire season.
“We fully expect to meet all the mission requirements NSF sets forth for us. It’s an extremely remote and austere environment, but the best part about being a navigator in Antarctica is the sense of adventure,” said Maj. Steven Slosek in a news release. Slosek is a navigator who will be part of Operation Deep Freeze this season.
The unit, which boasts the U.S. military’s only ski-equipped aircraft, has been supporting the NSF’s South Pole research since 1988. Since 1999, the unit has been the sole provider of this type of airlift to the NSF and U.S. Antarctic research efforts.
In 1999, a crew from the 109th Airlift Wing made a daring rescue at the Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole, where a doctor was suffering from breast cancer. An LC-130 from the Airlift Wing landed there in bitter cold, far earlier in the season than the aircraft normally fly, to retrieve her.
In 2008, another 109th LC-130 rescued an Australian researcher who had broken his leg in an accident in Antarctica and flew him to Hobart, Australia.