VIDEO: Cockpit Views of a Ski Takeoff and Landing [Dispatches from Antarctica]

LC-130 Ski Takeoff. (USAF photo: Col Gary James, 13 AEG/CC.)

LC-130 Ski Takeoff. (USAF photo: Col Gary James, 13 AEG/CC)

This is the 31st entry in the Armed with Science series, Dispatches from Antarctica. The series features Air Force Lt. Col. Ed Vaughan’s first-hand experiences on OPERATION: DEEP FREEZE, the Defense Department’s support of National Science Foundation research in Antarctica.

7 November 2010, WAIS Divide Outpost, Antarctica: Cockpit views of a ski takeoff and landing

Major David Panzera, LC-130 ski-plane pilot with the 139 Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, provided this compelling footage of a routine ski approach and landing into WAIS (West Antarctic Ice Sheet) Divide Science Outpost. As you can see from the footage, even fair weather days present challenges for ski-plane operations.



Crews must work together to locate the camp’s skyway and then ease the plane on to the snowy surface. On takeoff, crews must continually monitor ski-to-snow surface friction and make adjustments to lift and drag, and thrust in the case of jet assisted takeoff (JATO), using the flaps.  Such adjustments permit the plane to accelerate to speeds in the 65-70 knot range. This is normally sufficient to permit the pilot to raise the nose ski off the snow, reducing total surface friction enough to allow the plane to accelerate to takeoff speed.

In the event the pilot cannot raise the nose ski, or the plane fails to accelerate to takeoff speed, then the takeoff is aborted. Crews may try to takeoff several times before resorting to using JATO. JATO, actually eight small solid-fuel rocket engines, provide the equivalent of one additional engine of thrust for 10-15 seconds. That is often just enough excess thrust to permit the plane to overcome friction and takeoff.



Enjoy these pictures courtesy U.S. Air Force Col Gary James.

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  • Villagesmitty

    What calm courage! Wow. Great job…and thanks for sharing!

  • Dljgov1011

    What a show! I felt like I was on board. It took a lot of skill, teamwork and guts to land that bird in such poor visibility.

  • Roc5151

    Like this is new information?… for christ sakes the Navy squadron VXE-6 in support of the NSF was doing this years before. Give credit where credit is due. I was there. Plus the us army was there for internal support. does anyone mention them either? noooooooooooooo NUFF SAID

  • http://twitter.com/ArmedwScience Armed with Science

    Agreed! That’s one view that most people never get to experience.

  • http://twitter.com/ArmedwScience Armed with Science

    Roc5151, thanks for the comment. Check out the background post crafted by Lt. Col. Vaughan on the first day of Dispatches from Antarctica series. There is a really interesting description of how Operation: Deep Freeze has its roots in the storied history of the US Navy’s explorations in Antarctica.

    Here is a link:

    ~ John | AwS Team

  • DavidM Bresnhan

    Forgot to mention the folks that prepare the skiway for the LC-130 to land on.

  • Lt. Col. Ed Vaughan

    Dave, we did a big feature on Gary Cardullo and his ice runway repair among the first dispatches (). Gary’s team is responsible for oversight of all the US Antarctic Program skiways, including West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to meet the individual skiway groomers at each site, but their work is awesome. Additionally, all air operations in Antarctica are a team effort. The ops involve cargo, maintenance, airfield, weather, fuels, firefighting, and many others. We can’t cover every topic in each blog post but hope to highlight most of the functions across the collection of dispatches.