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McChord wings set ODF airlift records

Crews conducted 74 missions this season

Passengers disembark from an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at the Annual Sea Ice Runway near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. /National Science Foundation

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(446th AW PA) - 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 at McChord Field, commanded the squadron of 35 people, including Reserve and active-duty Airmen from McChord.

"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.

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. 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."

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