60 years of Antarctic Airlift

By Senior Airman Jacob Jimenez on November 3, 2016

On Oct. 21, airmen from Joint Base Lewis-McChord flew from Christchurch, New Zealand, to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, tracing a similar flight pattern to one flown 60 years earlier.

The flight commemorated the first ever U.S. Air Force Antarctic flight flown in a Douglas C-124 Globemaster II, named "Miss North Carolina" Oct. 21, 1956.

"The combination of 62nd Airlift Wing personnel who are readily available and highly proficient in the C-17 combined with the 446th Airlift Wing personnel who have thousands of hours of aviation experience and longevity in Antarctic operations, has allowed Team McChord to safely complete this mission," said Lt. Col. Robert Schmidt, 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron commander and 62nd Operations Group commander.

The 1956 flight took 12 hours to complete in an unpressurized aircraft. In comparison to this first flight, the Oct. 21 flight named ICE-12, utilizing a McChord C-17 Globemaster III, was completed in just five hours.

"The C-17 flies faster and higher than the C-124, providing more convenient and comfortable service to passengers," said Dr. Robert Allen, 62nd AW historian. "The Globemaster III is also a better cargo platform, carrying more cargo that is easier to unload, as well as having a more precise airdrop capability."

Team McChord airmen have participated in supporting Operation Deep Freeze since 1985, flying the C-141B Starlifter. ODF is the Department of Defense's support of the U.S. Antarctic Program and the National Science Foundation.       

"Support for ODF has evolved naturally as aircraft, equipment and personnel training improved," said Allen. "This has allowed the National Science Foundation to conduct its robust research program with increasing confidence."

ODF is different from any other U.S. military operation, said Schmidt. It is one of the military's most difficult peacetime missions due to the harsh Antarctic environment.

"The operating environment in Antarctica is significantly different from the rest of the globe," said Schmidt. "The remoteness, rapidly changing weather, and harsh climate can create some significant logistical challenges that only the DoD has the capabilities to overcome."

The C-17's unique airlift capabilities provides a premier platform to provide airlift to the most remote austere locations around the world, including Antarctica.

"The C-17, with its extended range fuel tanks, cargo capacity, and short/semi-prepared runway capabilities, is ideally suited for the Antarctic mission," said Schmidt. "The extended range fuel capacity typically allows us to fly all of the way to Antarctica and back without requiring refueling. This not only improves the safety of the mission by giving the crews flexibility during rapidly changing weather conditions, but also reduces the amount of fuel that needs to be shipped to Antarctica each year."

Christchurch International Airport, New Zealand, serves as the staging point for deployments to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, a key research and operations facility for the USAP.

Team McChord airmen working with Joint Task Force - Support Forces Antarctica, execute inter- and intra-theater airlift, aeromedical evacuation support, search and rescue, and transportation requirements at NSF's request in order to support the USAP.

"ODF is a unique mission for the Air Force and Air Mobility Command in several ways," said Schmidt. "The success of ODF depends on the Air Force and AMC working closely with the National Science Foundation to develop the best schedules and procedures to overcome the continent's logistical challenges"

Throughout the 2015-2016 season, JTF-SFA directed more than 350 inter/intra-theater airlift missions, moving over 6.5 million pounds of material and transporting approximately 5,500 passengers.