Night Vision Goggle Training Mission [Dispatches from Antarctica]

[youtube X8YH3UkLQpQ nolink]

This is the fifth 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.

1 October 2010: McMurdo Station, Antarctica — Night vision goggle training mission.

The alarm blared in my ear. I woke up with that familiar disorientation that occurs from too many nights on the road, over too many years of traveling. It’s a kind of temporal distortion that briefly freezes time and space. For a few seconds, you wonder where you are, what time it is, what day of the week. Why is it so dark!?

I extended my arm into the cold void and fumbled toward the flickering red “10:30pm” at the source of the noise. The air felt like cold metal on my hands and neck. Ok, ok. Brain on…game on! I’m still in the coldest, driest place on Earth, and we have an inbound flight.

After a full day preparing living and working spaces, plus attending to the requisite reports, meetings, and phone calls, I returned to my quarters to grab a short nap. The last C-17 night mission of the season was en route from New Zealand. In just under two hours, they’d be here.

Lt Col R. G. “Beef” Wellington knows it all comes down to this flight. Night vision goggle (NVG) operations in the US Air Force are now routine, permitting round-the-clock operations in both hostile and non-hostile environments. However, flying NVG missions in Antarctica is a different ball game altogether. And training opportunities in this busy mission are hard to come by. Despite his humble answer to such inquiries, make no mistake… Lt Col Wellington is the recognized authority on such highly specialized operations.

Pegasus White Ice Runway has good weather tonight. Light winds, good visibility, and a wind chill of -29 F. Sunset was at 9pm with sunrise forecast nine hours later. The nights grow shorter by 15 minutes each day, until later this month, night will be gone. 24/7 daylight prevails until the sun sets again at the end of the season. Tonight’s crews in training will fly next year’s NVG missions in the darkness of WINFLY (for winter fly-in).

C-17 cockpit view of final approach to Pegasus White Ice Runway through night vision goggles. (Photo: Lt Col R. G. Wellington/USAF)

C-17 cockpit view of final approach to Pegasus White Ice Runway through night vision goggles. (Photo: Lt. Col. R. G. Wellington/USAF)

C-17 cockpit view at Pegasus White Ice Runway through night vision goggles. (Photo: Lt. Col. R. G. Wellington/USAF)

C-17 cockpit view at Pegasus White Ice Runway through night vision goggles. (Photo: Lt. Col. R. G. Wellington/USAF)

A C-17 parked at Pegasus White Ice Runway through night vision goggles. (Photo: Lt. Col. R. G. Wellington/USAF)

C-17 parked at Pegasus White Ice Runway through night vision goggles. (Photo: Lt. Col. R. G. Wellington/USAF)

C-17 parked on Pegasus White Ice Runway (Photo: Lt. Col. R. G. Wellington/USAF)

C-17 parked on Pegasus White Ice Runway (Photo: Lt. Col. R. G. Wellington/USAF)

A C-17 looks like a spacecraft on Pegasus White Ice Runway. (Photo: Lt. Col. R. G. Wellington/USAF)

C-17 looks like a spacecraft on Pegasus White Ice Runway. (Photo: Lt. Col. R. G. Wellington/USAF)

Sign up for Armed with Science email alerts!