LC-130s are specially equipped for flying to Antarctica to transport civilians and support equipment for the National Science Foundation. (Maj. David Panzera / Air Force)
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The Air Force is kicking off a scaled-back version of its yearly Operation Deep Freeze, flying fewer missions in support of the National Science Foundation in Antarctica.
Every year, C-17s from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington and LC-130s from the New York Air National Guard transport civilians and support equipment for NSF.
The Guard’s LC-130s are specially equipped for this mission. The polar version of the C-130 is the backbone of transportation in Antarctica, with ski-equipped gear for landing on ice runways where planes with wheels cannot go, according to the Air Force.
C-17s will fly from McChord to Christchurch, New Zealand, on Oct. 6 to stage for the support missions and return Nov. 24. C-17s will then return for a second rotation Jan. 23 through Feb. 21, according to Pacific Air Forces.
In previous years, Air Force crews have flown more than 60 airlift missions in support of the mission, but that will be scaled back this year because of budget restrictions, according to the Air Force. Last year, U.S. crews ferried participants from New Zealand, Italy, Australia and South Korea.
LC-130 crews last year saw one of its busiest seasons yet, flying 102 missions, largely due to the inability of Airbus A-319 flights to land at the remote Pegasus Field, leaving the Hercules to pick up the slack.
In May, a C-17 from McChord was called back to Antarctica after the operation had concluded to rescue a patient who required emergency medical attention at McMurdo Station.
The military has flown the mission since 1955.