The 109th Airlift Wing provides vital support for basic scientific research in the Antarctic, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said Friday as he vowed to fight for its continued federal funding.
Visiting the Stratton Air National Guard Base in Glenville, Schumer promised to fight during upcoming Senate sessions for continuing the National Science Foundation’s current $6.9 billion annual appropriation.
That money supports basic scientific research in places like the Antarctic, including providing the funding for four of the 109th Airlift Wing’s ski-equipped LC-130 cargo planes — the U.S. military’s only such planes. The planes are used to fly supplies to Antarctic research stations during the Antarctic summer and in Greenland during the Northern Hemisphere summer. Other funding for the 109th comes through the federal defense budget.
Six of the wing’s 10 planes are currently based at McMurdo Station in the Antarctic, where it is now the height of the summer research season.
The base is a major local economic engine, providing 1,050 jobs and having an estimated $107 million annual economic impact, according to base officials.
“It’s a local economic resource and a national scientific jewel that can’t be replaced,” Schumer said, holding a press briefing in front of one of the ski-equipped aircraft in a hangar at the base, which adjoins the Schenectady County Airport.
The planes based at Stratton fly 2,600 hours annually in support of National Science Foundation missions, making a five-day trip between Schenectady County and McMurdo Station. From McMurdo, they fly to the South Pole research station and dozens of other research sites around the frozen continent, bringing fresh food and other supplies.
The supply missions begin in October and run through mid-February, said 2nd Lt. Colette Martin, a base public affairs officer.
The 109th has flown the Antarctic missions since 1988.
With the recent sequester budget cuts and general pressure to cut government spending because of budget deficits, the National Science Foundation’s funding is always at risk, Schumer said. He noted that the Stratton base was also threatened with the loss of its research support planes during the last round of military base closings in 2005.
“The National Guard is under funding pressure, as is the NSF,” Schumer told a small crowd that included base leaders, Schenectady Chamber of Commerce President Chuck Steiner and local elected officials.
The state’s senior senator said the kind of work the local base is supporting — basic scientific research in remote locations — is very important, especially for what it can tell scientists about climate change.
“With global warming and basic research and everything else that needs to be done on the ice, what a dumb time it would be to stop,” Schumer said. “The research that’s done here is more important than ever.”
He noted that the 109th’s cargo planes have also provided military transport support during many civil emergencies, including the responses to hurricanes Katrina, Irene and Sandy.
“The long and short of it is they’re a vital link in our defense and provide a vital link in our research,” Schumer said.