McChord crew active in Operation Deep Freeze

By AFNS on December 27, 2010

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zeland (AFNS) -- An Air Force Reserve C-17 Globemaster III from the 728th Airlift Squadron out of McChord Air Force Base, Wash., is supporting Operation Deep Freeze by serving as a bridge for cargo and personnel moving between Christchurch, New Zealand, and McMurdo Air Station, Antarctica. 

The C-17 and its aircrew perform three to four round trips per week between the two locations. During each flight, the crew must navigate through difficult weather before landing on an ice runway at McMurdo. 

"This is probably the most dangerous peace time mission that we do" said Maj. Casey Guerrero, a C-17 pilot who has flown to Antarctica eleven times, "It's just that the weather changes so rapidly in Antarctica."

The ice cold and unpredictable weather is the biggest concern during the flights to Antarctica. The crew takes a number of precautions to ensure the aircraft is serviceable in the austere conditions. They turn on the hydraulic pumps early to make sure the fluid is at a proper temperature, and they cycle the flight controls while the aircraft is on the ground to ensure they stay above forty-five degrees. 

Another major concern is the lack of places to land on the route to McMurdo.
"There is nothing between Christchurch and Antarctica" Major Guerrero said, "so we have to watch our cold weather procedures, and if we have any kind of emergency we have to fuel-plan correctly so we can make it back to Christchurch." 

The crew has a predetermined point of safe return during each flight. At this point they check the weather and determine whether to press forward or turn back and return to Christchurch. Although the weather in Antarctica might be good for landing when the C-17 takes off from Christchurch, the rapidly changing weather has forced the crew to turn back a number of times. 

"It all depends on the weather," Major Guerrero said. "It's luck, nothing we can control."

The flights are a part of Operation Deep Freeze, an annual operation that supports the U.S. Antarctic Program and the National Science Foundation's research at sites throughout the Antarctic continent. The Joint Task Force - Support Forces Antarctica operation is led by 13th Air Force and includes strategic inter-theater airlift, tactical deep-field support, aeromedical-evacuation support, search and rescue response, sealift, seaport access, bulk fuel supply, port cargo handling and transportation requirements.