New York Guard Airman team up with Canadians, Minnesota Air Guard to hone ice runway construction skills

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jamie Spaulding
  • 109th Airlift Wing

10 Airmen assigned to the 109th Airlift wing deployed to Greenland in support of Exercise Polar Reach May 11th through the 27th 2022.

The exercise, a joint international training event conducted by the 109th in cooperation with the Canadian Royal Air Force, affords the 109th the opportunity to test the capabilities of its Polar Camp Skiway Team.

The skiway team is a group of airmen from the 109th operations and maintenance groups trained to deploy to forward polar environments and establish a skiway – or snow and ice landing area--where LC-130 Hercules ski- equipped aircraft may land.

The skiway is a swath of ice a minimum of 150 ft wide and 5000 feet long, free of packs of snow, pressure ridges, cracks or crevices, and any other surface irregularities.
The ski landing control officer, and an experienced instructor pilot trained to survey snow surfaces lays out the skiway.

That officer also deploys canvas markers to illustrate the outline of the ski-way to the grooming personnel on the ground and outline it for the aircrews that will come into land.
The construction team members take turns operating grooming equipment, towed by snowmobiles, designed to improve snow and ice conditions for eight to ten hours a day until the snow can support the aircraft.

The 109th partnered with the 133rd Contingency Response Flight from the Minnesota Air National Guard. That unit specializes in the build up of hardened communications equipment for forward bases in areas of contingency operations.

The 133rd deployed in conjunction with the skiway team, to test arctic military equipment and gained valuable arctic training while testing their equipment in the arctic conditions.

The 109th also partnered with the Canadian RAF 440th Transport Squadron out of Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

Personnel and light equipment were transported to the location by the 440th’s CC-138 Twin Otters; smaller ski-equipped aircraft used for light airlift and reconnaissance.

“Camp buildup, sustaining life, operations, and camp pull-out were training items that were emphasized throughout the exercise.,” said Major Chris Husher, a ski landing area control officer (SLACO) student.

“It shows our flexibility to forward deploy to these austere places, emphasizing the ability to adapt and project power in any environment,” Husher continued.

“A SLACO essentially determines where and how an LC-130 can operate in these polar environments; determining the location, orientation, and marking of the skiway,” Husher explained.

While the exercise took place in Greenland this year, similar programs were also conducted in Alaska as well as the arctic regions of Canada, incorporating other partner units and countries like Denmark.

“In arctic environments, the landscape as well as the weather prove to be an immense challenge,” Said Master Sgt. Logan Brennan, polar camp manager during the exercise.

“Logistically the goal is to get everyone in, the mission accomplished, then everyone out in the safest and most efficient way possible,” he added

This year, Polar Reach focused on training a new crop of airmen to bolster the qualified personnel available to execute the highly specialized mission and expand the capability in the future , according toLt. Col Matt Sala, a SLACO and officer in charge for PCST.

“We had three SLACO students and several more personnel trained in tasks related to basic survival and operations around the camp itself,”Sala said

“As the Arctic and Antarctic regions become more important, so too does the 109th and its capabilities. Naturally, that means we need to maintain a posture to execute this skill set and continue to develop it, which means more people need to be trained to do so,” Sala continued.

Polar Reach is an annual exercise for PCST, along with other exercises like Arctic Light; which employ the same capabilities with differing partner units, organizations, and nations.

The 109th Airlift Wing continues to provide airlift support to the National Science Foundation and the DOD, employing the LC-130 Ski Equipped aircraft.

The 109th’s LC-130 Hercules is the largest ski-equipped aircraft in the world, capable of landing on ice and snow in polar environments. The wing continues to provide airlift support to the National Science foundation in Antarctica and Greenland.