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Wing ready for ODF season

A U.S. Air Force LC-130 Hercules from the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing touches down near McMurdo, Antarctica.  The first plane landed there 50 years ago. (U.S. Air Force photo)

An LC-130 Hercules touches down near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Crews with the 109th are gearing up for the 2008/09 Operation Deep Freeze season, with the first flight scheduled to take off Oct. 27. (U.S. Air Force photo)

STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. -- The 109th Airlift Wing will begin its 20th year of Operation Deep Freeze supporting the National Science Foundation in Antarctica with its first flight of the season planned to take off Oct. 27.

Two LC-130 Hercules, ski-equipped aircraft, will take off on Oct. 27, followed by two more LC-130s and a C-5 Galaxy from the 105th AW at Stewart Air National Guard Base, N.Y., on Oct. 28.

The aircraft will be carrying maintenance equipment, such as engines and propellers. Crews will spend a few days in New Zealand setting up their base of operations and then head down to McMurdo Station in Antarctica to get things going there, said Tech. Sgt. Joe Axe, a loadmaster with the 139th Airlift Squadron who works in the Antarctic Operations Office.

"Once we're established in Antarctica, the first mission we'll do is to open the South Pole," Sergeant Axe said. "We'll take about 50 people. That first day will be about three or four trips just to get the South Pole going."

This season, financial challenges have lessened the missions required for the unit.

"This season we're doing about two-thirds of what we usually do; we're only doing five (sorties) a day vs. eight," Sergeant Axe said. "I'm hoping to get somewhere around 8 million pounds of cargo moved at a minimum. Our best season was 14 million. "

Another change this season has to do with the new 8-bladed props. That aircraft will be going to Antarctica as part of a test program. Once tests are done, and everything checks out OK, the aircraft will be added to the rotation.

"We're hoping the tests go well and get done fast and it can be proven that the aircraft is more fuel-efficient," Sergeant Axe said. "During the testing phase, it will be flying its own separate missions taking a little bit of cargo and increasing that each time."

Crews have been preparing for this season even before last season was finished. Feedback is gathered and sent up the chain so improvements can be made for the next season.

"As we enter our 20th year supporting Operation Deep Freeze the one constant in an ever-changing environment is the attitude of our Airmen and their dedication to completing the mission," said Col. Anthony German, 109th AW commander. "The work ethic required to be successful in the environments we work in is the defining characteristic that led us to being selected as the best flying unit in the Air National Guard. Each season has its own challenges, and this season the challenge will be financial in nature. We will fly less missions, deploy less people and consolidate jobs in a number of areas, but in the end we will continue to serve the National Science Foundation in the same professional manner they are accustomed to. I look forward to the upcoming season with great confidence in all of our Airmen to make this yet another successful season."

The Scotia-based 109th AW has provided airlift support to the National Science Foundation's South Pole research program since 1988. In 1999, the unit assumed command of the entire Operation Deep Freeze mission from the U.S. Navy.