Flying in Impossible Conditions: Rescue Effected!


10/19/2011 by Ed Timperlake

We’ve written in these pages before about the rigors and risks of operating in the Arctic.

A ski equipped LC-130 Hercules finishes final preparation before leaving New York and make the 11.000 mile journey to Antarctica in support of the United States Antarctica Program. The 109th Airlift Wing is part of the New York Air National Guard located in Schenectady New York. Credit: 109th Airlift Wing

There are few environments anywhere on earth that are more brutal or unforgiving. American military units have pioneered Arctic and Antarctic con-ops. It is always a matter of resources, which are being cut back, but ultimately the human factor of judgement, flying skill and personal courage makes the huge difference.

Having the “Right Stuff” for all aircrews US and others to operate in 50 degrees below zero with ice and snow blowing in gale force conditions is often just another day at the office for the professional. But at a moments notice it can turn deadly for the persons involved. Safety of flight is of paramount concern for all aircrews that fly on the edge of the envelope in even the most benign Arctic and Antarctic conditions.

Consequently, with the news this week that an American engineer was successfully evacuated from Antarctica, we thought it apropos to give a shout out to the flight crews who ply their trade in the equally, if not more, unfriendly skies of Antarctica.

Some very courageous Canadian crews made the initial lift and then the USAF took over.

A DC3-T aircraft flown by a Canadian company was able to fly Douceur from the South Pole to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. From there, airmen and a C-17 Globemaster III from Joint Base Lewis-McChord transported her to Christchurch, New Zealand in a “routine” operation.

The word “routine” jumps off the page.

The support Operation Deep Freeze provides to the United States Antarctic Program is unlike any other U.S. military operation,” a JBLM spokesperson said a press release Tuesday. “It is possibly the military’s most difficult peacetime mission due to the harsh Antarctic environment.”

Lieutenant Colonel Brent Keenan has flown that mission before.

“You’re operating in one of the most remote environments on the earth,” Keenan said. “We’re talking Antarctica, where it’s always cold and snow and ice. Especially when we go down in the wintertime, which is August for them, it’s almost pitch black dark so we’ll fly with night vision goggles. The weather in constantly changing.”

The crew from Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside of Tacoma, Washington completed the rescue flight this week from McMurdo Station on the Antarctic continent to New Zealand. The op also included active duty aircrew from 62nd Airlift Wing.

Additionally, on the other side of the US crews from the 109th Airlift Wing with the New York Air National Guard unit in Scotia, NY are also primary players in Operation Deep Freeze. These pilots and flight crews fly ski-equipped LC-130s into and out of the South Pole in support of national Science Foundation operations at the South Pole.

Weather in the Arctic or Antarctic, this time our cold weather pilots and aircrew once again showed their mettle in this week’s medical evacuation of the engineer. The evac had been delayed due to the brutal Antarctic winter by the National Science Foundation, which manages U.S. scientific and research programs in Antarctica.

Even after the NSF gave the green light for the mission, it had to be further delayed until weather cleared.

But once the storm subsided and NSF approved flight ops, aircrews did what they’ve always done and got the job done in stellar fashion.

Bravo Zulu to all!