Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

March 17, 2012 at 4:55am

McChord wings set record for airlift in Operation Deep Freeze

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Reservists with the 446th Airlift Wing, in partnership with their active-duty brethren from the 62nd Airlift Wing, complete a record-setting season for Operation Deep Freeze. ODF C-17 airlift support began Aug. 20, 2011 and ended with the return of Team McChord here March 4.

As the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, Team McChord aircrews and maintainers conducted 74 missions in support of Operation Deep Freeze, six more than any previous season. On the unofficial side of this temporary duty, the team donated a record $10,000 to charities in Christchurch, New Zealand, where they stage ODF C-17 Globemaster III missions.

Operation Deep Freeze is a joint service, inter-agency activity that supports the National Science Foundation, which manages the United States Antarctic Program.

ODF 2011-2012 late winter flights, known as WINFLY, began Aug. 20 when a C-17 from Joint Base Lewis-McChord began delivering passengers and cargo to the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

Continuing the theme of firsts for this season, Team McChord conducted the first-ever C-17 operational South Pole airdrop and a mid-winter medical evacuation out of McMurdo using night-vision goggles. And for the first time in ODF, a Reservist was commander of the 304th EAS.

The 446th AW first began supporting ODF in 1997 with the C-141 in a presidentially-mandated mission to support the National Science Foundation's experiments at the South Pole.

Lt. Col. Bill Eberhardt, 728th Airlift Squadron here, commanded the squadron of 35 people, including Reserve and active-duty Airmen from McChord Field.

"Aircrew wise it's a 50-50 split (between 446th and 62nd AWs)," said Eberhardt. "Generally, the 446th Operations Group mans the staff of the 304th EAS. We (the 446th AW) have the DO (director of operations), superintendent, and chief loadmaster. The only non-Reservist on the staff is from the 62nd Airlift Wing, the commander of the squadron. This year I had the privilege of being the first Reserve commander of the 304th EAS."

The 304th EAS was busier than usual this season; busy as in 2,524 passengers flown south, 2,631 passengers flown north and moving 6 million, 329 thousand pounds in cargo.

"Pretty impressive for one small squadron with one airplane," said Eberhardt.

While the aircrews are an even mix of active-duty and Reserve Airmen, according to Eberhardt much of the maintenance team is active duty.

"Our goal is to have as many Reserve maintainers as the active duty, but the numbers tend to lean more to the 62nd Maintenance Group. The 22nd Special Tactics Squadron (from McChord Field) provides the satellite communications operator," he said.

Maintainers and aircrew alike were extended two weeks this season as more missions were added to the schedule to accommodate cargo typically shipped to McMurdo.

"The challenges at the end of the season involved an ice pier. Toward the end of last season, there was a big wind storm that broke up the ice pier at McMurdo station," Eberhardt explains. "So this year they could not use that ice pier."

A ship brings fuel to unload at the McMurdo pier. Another ship carries in cargo and then uploads trash and outgoing cargo. When the ice pier became unusable, the National Science Foundation hired an Army unit to bring in a portable pier to use for the cargo offload and upload.

"Because that ship had the portable pier on it and it was going through the southern ocean, some of the roughest seas on the planet, they had to download some cargo off the ship at Christchurch before it went to McMurdo Station. They did this to change the center of gravity of the ship for the rough seas," said Eberhardt. "So that cargo we, in the C-17, had to fly south. That extended our season by two weeks and added several more missions to our schedule."

At the end of the season the McChord contingent was extremely busy, flying almost every day, according to Eberhardt.

"This creates a challenge, mostly for the maintainers, because they are launching the aircraft in the morning and recovering it at night," he said.

Challenging is the word for ODF regardless of extra missions.

"Weather and fuel planning are the primary challenges of flying ODF missions," said Eberhardt. "When you go down there to McMurdo or airdrop on the South Pole, there's only one runway within about 2,200 miles you can land on. So you have issues with mission planning; if you lose an engine or something like that you don't have a lot of options."

The South Pole sits at 10,000 feet above sea level. When you're over the South Pole at 90 degrees south, every direction is north. Navigation takes an experienced crew to know what to expect and get it done properly, said Eberhardt.

The South Pole was on Master Sgt. Scott Terra's itinerary while deployed for ODF. Terra, a loadmaster with the 728th AS, was on loan to the Air National Guard at McMurdo Station - in an administrative support position.

"They're trying to run a pilot program that allows the C-17 guys to have exposure to what the C-130 guys do there and vice versa," said Terra.

The 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard supports ODF with ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft. Terra spent about 40 days working in administration, but learning all he could about the ODF mission of the Guard squadron.

"They do some pretty amazing work, operating in an austere environment their entire tour," said Terra.

Rounding out the monster machine of ODF airlift are the cargo handlers.

"Cargo handling is done by a civilian contractor," said Eberhardt. "Phenomenal group of people. Extremely professional and very, very good at what they do. And the best thing about those guys both in Christchurch and McMurdo is they optimize our load planning."

This season, says Eberhardt, was one of the most successful to date. And they get to do it all again Aug. 20, 2012.

Comments for "McChord wings set record for airlift in Operation Deep Freeze" (1)

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Bryan Hilbert said on Mar. 29, 2012 at 10:52am

Great article Sandra; however, you have left off the other half of the mission. The 109AW out of New York flys the C-130 from McMurdo to all the field camps and the south pole. The McChord mission supports movement from Christchurch NZ to McMurdo and then the 109th takes it from there. It may be interesting to add that element.

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