An airpower milestone was reached last week when the first ever US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III completed an airdrop mission that delivered about 70,000 pounds of supplies to the South Pole.
The C-17's joint active-duty and reserve crew dropped the load from more than 10,000 feet. With the South Pole at 9,300 feet above sea level, parachutes needed 1,000 feet in which to inflate, US Air Force officials said. The drop in a single pass consisted of four pallets of food for scientists. The airdrop's success was due to the combined effort of people from Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica Operation Deep Freeze; the 62nd Airlift Wing and the Air Force Reserve Command's 446th Airlift Wing both from McChord Air Force Base, Wash.; the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division; the Royal New Zealand Defense Force; the National Science Foundation; and Raytheon Polar Services Corporation, reports an official Pentagon release. By validating the C-17 capability of conducting an airdrop at the geographical South Pole, JTF-SFA's Operation Deep Freeze demonstrated its ability to provide mid-winter emergency re-supply and flexible support to the National Science Foundation and U.S.Antarctica Program Operation Deep Freeze is a unique joint and total force mission that first anchored U.S. national policy in Antarctica in1955. The ability to airdrop supplies using the C-17 versus the ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules, the traditional aircraft 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 allow airland missions. During the winter season at the South Pole, temperatures often dip as low as minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit and can paralyze an aircraft's hydraulic systems, crystallize the fuel and solidify lubricants. Around-the-clock darkness and crosswinds up to 60 miles per hour create blizzard conditions and zero visibility, making it impossible for an aircraft to land. A medical emergency in 1999 highlighted the need to maintain a mid-winter airdrop resupply capability to sites in Antarctica. In that year, Dr. Jeri Nielsen, the only physician at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, critically needed medical supplies to treat her tele-medically diagnosed cancer. An LC-130 airland mission was not possible before October, so NSF requested and funded an Air Mobility Command out-of-cycle airdrop of medical supplies to the South Pole station. An economy-of-force driven decision provided a C-141 and handpicked aircrew from the 62nd AW and 446th AW from McChord AFB, to execute the aerial delivery. The nearly 50-flying-hour mission was described by then-AMC commander Gen. Charles T. Robertson Jr., as "a truly heroic effort." The 2006-2007 Operation Deep Freeze kicked off in August with C-17 flights from Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo Station to stage essential personnel and equipment to prepare the ice runway for the main C-17 and LC-130 operations. Main body resupply consists of C-17 intercontinental flights between Christchurch and McMurdo Station and LC-130 flights from McMurdo, Antarctica to the South Pole and other camps throughout Antarctica. Up to two C-17s based at Christchurch fly missions as required each week while up to nine LC-130s, depending on mission requirements, fly multiple daily missions daily from their hub at McMurdo Station. Last week the US government also announced it was purchasing ten more C-17 Globemaster III cargo jets, a contract involving two billion US dollars for manufacturer Boeing. The purchase adds to the 180 C-17 aircraft bought by the Air Force. The Globemaster III can carry up to 500,000 pounds, and transports everything from M-1 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles to war-wounded troops. The aircraft, described as agile cargo haulers, provide the "third weapon" in transport arsenal, along with the massive C-5 Galaxy and the KC-10 re-fueling aircraft