Air Force Supports Science Through Operation DEEP FREEZE

The National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station, as seen from the summit of Observation Hill, Antarctica. The station was established in December 1955 and is the logistics hub of the U.S. Antarctic Program, with a harbor, landing strips on sea ice and shelf ice, and a helicopter pad. (Air Force courtesy photo)

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Whitney Taylor

In conjunction with the 446th Airlift Wing, the 62nd Operations Group Air Force unit out of Washington State recently kicked off Operation DEEP FREEZE (ODF), a mission offering Department of Defense support to the National Science Foundation (NSF)-managed U.S. Antarctic Program, with operations that began in late September.

According to the NSF website, Americans have studied the Antarctic and its interactions with the rest of the planet since 1956. The aim of the Antarctic program is to carry forward the nation’s goals of meeting obligations under the Antarctic Treaty, fostering cooperative research with other nations, and protecting the Antarctic environment.

“Since September we have flown 17 [ODF] missions, transported nearly 950,000 pounds of cargo and more than 1,300 passengers including the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand,” said Maj. Lucas Berreckman, 62nd Operations Group executive officer and instructor pilot.

Having traveled to the continent twice, once as a student pilot and again as an instructor, Berreckman said he recalls his impression of Antarctica as dreamlike.

“It was surreal,” the major explained. “Not knowing what the continent would actually be like beforehand, I found it surprisingly mountainous, truly beautiful, and colder than you would imagine, despite our arriving during the Antarctic summer.”

Denoted are the three U.S. year-round research stations; McMurdo Station located on Ross Island,; Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, at the geographic South Pole; and Palmer Station on Anvers Island in the Antarctic Peninsula region. Without interruption since 1956, Americans have been studying the Antarctic and its interactions with the rest of the planet. These investigators and supporting personnel make up the U.S. Antarctic Program. (Courtesy Graphic)

Though striking to behold, Antarctica’s austere environment creates unique challenges for those who seek to land and operate there.

In addition to fast-changing weather which makes approach difficult for pilots, cold and inhospitable surroundings present challenges unlike those loadmasters and maintainers operating outside the aircraft have typically encountered before, Berreckman said.

NSF notes that research is performed in Antarctica only when it cannot be performed at more convenient locations elsewhere on the globe and that research has three distinct goals: to understand the region and its ecosystems; to understand its effects on, and responses to global processes such as climate; and to use the region as a platform to study the upper atmosphere and space.

Likewise, there are distinct goals and benefits for McChord Airmen operating in the remote and extreme Antarctic environment. In addition to the advancement of technical skillsets, the ODF mission has resulted in strengthened bonds between the United States and partner nations such as New Zealand.

“The value comes from getting to execute a subset of the C-17 [Globemaster III] mission that I hadn’t done before,” Berreckman said. “Learning more about the aircraft’s capabilities, further developing pilots, loadmasters and maintainers who go on the missions, and also cultivating relationships with our international communities firsthand makes ODF priceless.