Operation Deep Freeze Ends Record Setting Season

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii – Ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster IIIs redeployed from Christchurch, New Zealand, wrapped up the 2006-2007 season of Operation Deep Freeze in late February. This unique joint and total force mission has supported the National Science Foundation and U.S. Antarctic Program since 1955 and is currently led by Pacific Air Forces, 13th Air Force.

“This has been a record setting year. We moved more cargo and more people and did it faster this year than ever before,” said Lt. Gen. Chip Utterback the Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica commander.

“I’m incredibly proud of our Airmen and Sailors who showed great initiative and innovation while operating in the coldest, windiest, most inhospitable continent on the globe,” he said. “Despite that environment they ensured fuel, supplies and personnel were delivered safely and on time to McMurdo Station and camps throughout the continent.”

During the recently concluded 2006-2007 season, LC-130s flew 430 missions, moving nearly 11 million pounds of cargo and 1,000 passengers throughout Antarctica. The C-17s flew 57 missions to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, from Christchurch carrying more than 3 million pounds of cargo and 2,700 passengers to McMurdo, and more than 720,000 pounds of cargo and 2,600 passengers to Christchurch from McMurdo.

Also this season, C-17 aircrews achieved an airpower milestone Dec. 19 by completing the first C-17 airdrop mission that delivered approximately 70,000 pounds of supplies to the South Pole. The ability to airdrop supplies using the C-17 versus the LC-130, which is the traditional platform used to airland supplies on the ice, allows aircrews to deliver up to four times as much supplies in a single airdrop mission in conditions that do not permit airland missions.

The LC-130s and personnel from the 109th Airlift Wing, New York Air National Guard; C-17s and personnel from the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings, McChord Air Force Base, Wash., supported air operations for JTF-SFA. The U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Polar Sea, homeported in Seattle, worked with contracted Swedish icebreaker Oden to cut a channel to the McMurdo Ice Pier, and Sailors from Naval Cargo Handling Battalion 1, Williamsburg, Va., deployed to McMurdo Station to offload cargo brought to McMurdo by the Military Sealift Command-contracted ship, American Tern.

The Polar Sea, joined the Oden Jan. 1, which began breaking ice Dec. 26. In supporting ODF, USCG icebreakers have broken through as much as 84 nautical miles of ice to produce a navigable shipping channel into McMurdo Station. This year’s channel was about 23 nautical miles long – 13 of which is first year ice at an average thickness of 3-5 feet and 10 of which is multi-year ice at an average thickness of 5-11 feet.

This vital shipping channel allows supply ships to deliver more than 6 million gallons of fuel and 4,000 metric tons of cargo, enabling McMurdo and South Pole Stations to remain manned and operational throughout the harsh winter months. The Polar Sea also acts as a floating research platform for scientists that travel onboard. Ice breaking operations concluded Feb. 15 with the departure of the Polar Sea from McMurdo Station.

The Polar Sea, a 399-foot polar class icebreaker with a 140-person crew, is recently out of a two-year overhaul and was specifically designed for solo icebreaking in remote Polar Regions. The ship turned 29 in January of this year. The cutter’s red reinforced hull is made of 1.75 inches of steel that covers a specially contoured icebreaking bow. The ship can call on 75,000 shaft horsepower enabling it to break up to 21 feet of ice. The Polar Sea has deployed 17 times in support of ODF.

Sailors from NCHB 1 completed cargo handling operations at McMurdo Ice Pier Feb. 11. The detachment of 70 Sailors began off-loading operations Feb. 4 when the American Tern arrived at the ice pier. The Sailors off-loaded 10.4 million pounds of cargo, then turned around and on Feb. 7 started backloading 9.6 million pounds of cargo onto the ship.

In addition to retrograde and scientific material being shipped off the continent, many of the 583 shipping containers contain trash and waste. In order to maintain the pristine environment of the continent, international treaty stipulates nothing can be left behind. All trash and waste is containerized, removed and transported off the continent.

The Sailors worked around the clock in two 12-hour shifts to complete this mission. February in Antarctica provides continuous sunlight, which contributes to mission safety and efficiency.

For more than 50 years the NSF has relied on the skills and unique abilities of Airmen and Sailors from the U.S. Air Force, Coast Guard and Navy to ensure safe delivery of life-sustaining cargo for its research scientists and residents at McMurdo Station.

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