SCOTIA, N.Y. — The New York Air National Guard has launched its annual support mission to Antarctica for the 32nd year.

The first of five LC-130 “Skibird” aircraft with the 109th Airlift Wing departed Stratton Air National Guard Base, near Schenectady, Oct. 28 for the week-long trip to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station.

During the 2019-2020 support season, which runs through February, about 500 airmen are expected to deploy, according to a New York Air Guard news release. About 120 of them will be deployed “on the ice” at any one time.

Crews will transport scientists and provide logistical support for fuel, supplies, medical supplies and more throughout the season. Maintenance personnel will also endure harsh conditions while working outside with limited facilities to keep the aircraft ready, the release said.

“Operating in extreme weather is no easy task," said Col. Michele Kilgore, 109th Airlift Wing commander, in the news release. "Our 109th Airlift Wing airmen are experts and continually rise to complete the mission in the most efficient and safest way.”

The wing anticipates conducting 160 missions, included logistical support for ongoing research in West Antarctica. Scientists are studying ice loss in glaciers in that section of the continent. Last year they launched the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration to research one of the most unstable glaciers in Antarctica, according to the release.

The National Science Foundation manages the Antarctic Program. The 109th provides its support as part of Operation Deep Freeze. Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica employs sealift and airlift to deliver supplies and personnel.

Last season, 109th airmen completed 242 missions within Antarctica, transporting 2,100 researchers and support staff, about 2.8 million pounds of cargo and 1.8 million pounds of fuel to research stations across the continent, the release stated.

The LC-130s are the largest ski-equipped aircraft in the world, and the only aircraft in the U.S. military capable of landing on ice or snow.

Since 1999, the 109th wing has been the sole provider of this type of airlift to the National Science Foundation’s Arctic and Antarctic research efforts.

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