Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

April 1, 2011 at 6:53am

Operation Deep freeze sets records

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MCCHORD FIELD, Wash. -- For the third year in a row, the McChord Field contingent to Operation Deep Freeze set records for most missions, flying hours and cargo hauled in Antarctica.

Up to thirteen Reservists per rotation from the 446th Airlift Wing here, along with Airmen from the 62nd Airlift Wing, rotated in and out of Christchurch, New Zealand from August 2010 to February 2011, providing airlift of cargo and personnel into and out of McMurdo Station. Antarctica. 

Operation Deep Freeze, which the 446th Airlift Wing supports flying the C-17, is the U.S. military's support of science and research activities conducted by the U.S. Antarctic Program at McMurdo Station Antarctica.

At the beginning of the season, known as WINFLY, McChord crews moved more than 490 passengers and 442 thousand pounds of cargo. 

This season also marked the first time C-17 crews planned and flew four missions using night vision goggles, extending their capability to deliver supplies anytime in the season.

The Airmen from McChord, operating as the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, airdropped cargo at the South Pole Station in December, providing proficiency training on such missions for both the air and ground crews.

"Year after year, the men and women of the Joint Task Force execute their mission in this challenging environment, whether by land, sea, or air. Their work supports important scientific research by the NSF and the USAP." said Col. Paul Sheppard, deputy commander, Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica (JTF-SFA). "Antarctica is no place for complacency. The impressive safety records of the LC-130, C-17, and heavy sealift assets are evidence that our military support forces do their jobs smartly."

"The pace and complexity (of this season) was very similar to past seasons; until the earthquake," said Chief Master Sgt. Jim Masura, 446th Operations Group. 

Deployed personnel were subject to the unknown force of Mother Nature. Several groups were exposed to earthquakes, including the 6.3 magnitude quake which destroyed most of the central business district and killed over 180 people. No McChord personnel or equipment were damaged.

"In the past, Christchurch was similar to what you find at home - stability. You knew you had a bed, hot water, food, and etcetera. After the earthquake, you were not sure what you were coming back to at the hotel. Did the group have food, safe shelter, and a hot shower before they flew. The staff had to factor all of this into the decision process."

Not only did the Reserve and active-duty Airmen support the U.S. National Science Foundation, they carried participants from the Italian, New Zealand, Australian, Russian, Norwegian and French Antarctic programs. 

The crews also participated in an Australian Rescue Coordination Center-directed search and recovery effort of a downed French helicopter near the French research station in October, 2010. Rescheduling passengers and adjusting fuel loads, the C-17 flew over the search area en route to McMurdo, but saw nothing due to bad weather. On its return to Christchurch, the aircrew again piloted the C-17 over the search area, where an accompanying Australian AP-3C Orion surveillance aircraft crew spotted the crash scene.

But the most difficult mission of the season, at least for Chief Masura, was the last one.

"The final mission is tough knowing that other than one more flight by the Australian A319, they (the scientists at McMurdo Station) would not have any more support or see any new people until late August. You just hope they have everything they needed," said the Chief.    

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