Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Operation Deep Freeze
1/8/2010 - MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- The 2009-2010 Operation Deep Freeze season is still underway, but the 10th year for C-17 Globemaster III's on "the ice" supporting National Science Foundation research in Antarctica has already been a success.
"This season is proving to be the busiest on record," said Lt. Col. Robert Wellington, 62nd Operations Group deputy commander and 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron commander, working for Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica.
"We're nearly two-thirds of the way through 68 scheduled missions and we've transported more than three thousand passengers and almost three million pounds of cargo," Colonel Wellington said.
Operation Deep Freeze is the U.S. military's support of the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Antarctic Program, and involves coordination of airlift, aeromedical evacuation support, emergency response, sealift, seaport access, bulk fuel supply, port cargo handling and transportation requirements.
Team McChord Airmen of the 62nd Airlift Wing and 446th Airlift Wing jointly conduct the Operation Deep Freeze C-17 mission.
Col. Kevin Kilb, 62nd Airlift Wing commander, recently visited the 304th EAS in Christchurch, New Zealand, observing firsthand the hard work, planning and preparation Team McChord Airmen put into each mission.
"This is a very important total-force mission that we're extremely proud of at McChord," said Colonel Kilb.
"We're at ten years now supporting Deep Freeze with the C-17, which has really revolutionized how the Air Force has supported the National Science Foundation," he said.
The first McChord C-17 touched down on the ice runway outside McMurdo Station, Antarctica, Oct. 15, 1999. Prior to this, McChord Airmen completed Antarctic flights with the C-141 Starlifter, which had supported Deep Freeze operations since 1966.
The C-17's reliability and versatility has really cut down our environmental footprint, reduced operating costs and increased our support of the National Science Foundation, said Colonel Kilb.
"In addition to the amount of cargo we can carry, the most significant difference between the C-17 and the C-141 is the capability to complete missions without refueling," said Lt. Col. J.W. Smith, 313th Airlift Squadron assistant operations officer and 304th EAS directing officer.
This capability is possible due to the increased range of the aircraft.
Since the current season kicked off Sept. 25, Team McChord Airmen have completed an average of three to four missions each week, transporting passengers and cargo.
The average mission takes approximately 10 hours of total flight time between Christchurch and Antarctica, with one to two hours spent on "the ice".
Airmen conducting the mission include seasoned veterans and first-time participants. After extensive pre-mission training at McChord, Airmen receive a full day of planning and preparation upon arrival in Christchurch.
"We always bring experienced instructors and they teach the new guys, to keep that experience alive for future seasons," said Colonel Wellington.
"We only bring the best to Operation Deep Freeze," he said. "There are a lot of unique challenges here, with the weather and the extreme cold temperatures; it's a graduate-level program [of Airmanship]."
The 304th EAS receives weather briefs from a specialized unit in Charleston, S.C. Using advanced computer models that break down the weather patterns hourly, an analysis of the local weather in Antarctica is provided to the squadron. This information is invaluable, as it's used to determine whether a mission can be launched on schedule, or if there is a need to delay or cancel a specific flight.
"We have the most specialized models and briefings," said Colonel Wellington. "We want to operate as efficiently as we can."
To save fuel and reduce risks, he said, missions are generally delayed or cancelled if there are significant weather concerns. Such delays impact about 25 percent of scheduled missions, but reduce the chances that a C-17 en route to Antarctica will have to turn around in-flight.
"So far this season we've only had one flight out of 46 that has had to turn back due to weather," said Colonel Wellington.
Airmen face other unique challenges in the harsh environment, including working in sub-zero temperatures and taxiing through snow on an ice runway - critical for increased safety and traction on landing.
"On this rotation, we haven't had many significant maintenance challenges - we have a great airplane and everything has been working extremely well," said Senior Master Sgt. Joe Gahan, 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
"This mission is one of the most difficult peacetime missions because of the harsh climate and the Antarctic environment as a whole, but it's also one of the most rewarding because we understand the importance of the scientific research being done," Colonel Kilb said.
"It's a great example of the cooperation, not only across the inter-agency spectrum and with our industry partners, but within our Air Force. It's an incredible example of total force teamwork to support very important science," he said.
Operation Deep Freeze missions are expected to continue until late February when Airmen transition from the main season to redeployment.
by Staff Sgt. Eric Burks
62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
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