About the 109th Airlift Wing
Published June 10, 2008
The Scotia-based 109th Airlift Wing has provided airlift support to the National Science Foundation's South Pole research program since 1988. The wing operates LC-130Hs, modified with wheel-ski gear, in support of Arctic and Antarctic operations.
In early 1996, the National Guard announced that the 109th Airlift Wing at Stratton ANGB in Scotia, New York was slated to assume that entire mission from the U.S. Navy in 1999. The 109th, which operated ski-equipped LC-130s, had been flying some NSF support missions to Antarctica since 1988. It had flown scientific and military missions to Greenland and the Arctic since 1975. The Antarctic operation would be fully funded by the NSF. The 109th expected to add approximately 235 full-time personnel to support that operation.
The possibility of the ANG taking over the mission had first emerged in 1988. The 109th had been notified that, almost overnight, one of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line radar sites that it supported in Greenland was going to be shut down. The other sites would soon follow and the 109th would be largely out of business because it main mission had ended. The unit had been informally keeping tabs on Navy LC-130 operations supporting the NSF in Antarctica. Because its aircraft were older than the Guard's and several of them were entering an extensive period of depot maintenance, the Navy asked if the 109th could provide a limited emergency search and rescue (SAR) capability for two years to support Operation Deep Freeze. The Air Guard accepted. At that time, it had no thought of taking over the mission. The 109th believed that it was senseless for its aircraft to deploy to the Antarctic and just wait to conduct emergency SAR missions so it asked the Navy if it could help carry cargo to the South Pole. The latter resisted at first because its procedures and cargo configurations differed from those of the Air Guard. But, eventually it relented. The main mission of the Navy and ANG C-130s was to airlift fuel and supplies to the NSF's South Pole Station so that its personnel could survive in isolation during the long Antarctic winter which lasted from February to October.
An ANG working group had been formed to study the idea in 1990. The following year, a dialogue between the ANG, the Air Staff, and the Navy began. Among other issues, it was difficult at first for the Air Guard to convince the Air Staff to commit long term resources to an area of the world that had not been declared a warfighting region because of international treaties. The Air Guard had supported military operations in Greenland and the Arctic (including classified Navy operations) since the mid-1970s with the ski-equipped C-130s of the 109th AW. It convinced Headquarters, U.S. Air Force that it was not in the nation's best interest to abandon the capability to achieve quick and reliable air access to both polar regions. In March 1993, the Navy hosted a two-day workshop with representatives of the NSF, Air Guard, and other interested parties to explore logistics support options for the operation. A draft concept of operations had been prepared by the Air Directorate of the NGB in 1993. In February 1996, a commitment was made to transfer the mission, known as "Operation Deep Freeze," and all LC-130 aircraft operated within the DoD to the ANG. In September 1996, senior officers from the 109th AW briefed the NGB on their concept of operations and the status of their preparations to implement "Operation Deep Freeze."
Under the transition plan which they had developed, the ANG would continue to augment the Navy during the October 1996-March 1997 operating season for the U.S. Antarctic Program. At the end of the October 1997-March 1998 season, the ANG would assume command of the program. During the third year of the transition program, October 1998 to March 1999, the Navy would augment the ANG before the latter took over the entire program the following year. There would be 7 LC-130s in theater. They would stage from Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Traditional Guardsmen, technicians, and the cadre of AGRs specifically brought on board to support "Operation Deep Freeze" would all be involved in the mission. When fully transitioned to the ANG, the 109th would have ten LC-130s in its inventory. These would include upgrades of four LC-130 aircraft in-service with the unit plus three new aircraft and three that would be transferred from the Navy. ANG estimates of the savings to be realized by consolidating the operation in the hands of the 109th AW ranged from $5 million to $15 million a year. The actual transition to Air Guard control began in March 1996.
In October of 1999, the 109th AW was involved in the rescue of a doctor with breast cancer symptoms and based at isolated Amunsden-Scott research station in Antarctica.
In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended to realign Schenectady County Airport AGS by transfering four C-130H aircraft from the 109th Airlift Wing (ANG) to the 189th Airlift Wing (ANG), Little Rock AFB, AR. This recommendation would distribute C-130 force structure to Little Rock (17), which would have higher military value. Adding aircraft to the ANG unit at Little Rock would create a larger, more effective squadron. The LC-130 aircraft (ski-equipped) would remain at Schenectady (117).