By Steve Flamisch
GLENVILLE, N.Y. – An LC-130 "Skibird" landed late Thursday at Stratton Air National Guard Base, returning members of the 109th Airlift Wing from a deployment to Antarctica.
The pilots, navigators, flight engineers, and technicians spent the past few weeks transporting fuel and supplies to research stations across the icy continent. They worked six days per week, 12-16 hours per day.
"It's been a long season and we're happy to be back at this point," Maj. Joshua Hicks said. "It took about five days to get here. We had a couple of minor maintenance issues that our maintenance personnel were able to fix and get us back on track… and home to our families."
The aircraft departed McMurdo Station in Antarctica late last week, flying to New Zealand then American Samoa then Hawaii then California before completing the 11,000-mile journey to Glenville.
"I'm glad to be home," Maj. Stephen Yandik said. "I can see family and friends. We're getting ready though to be going to Greenland here in another month so instead of being south, we're going north."
Many of the same airmen who returned Thursday will be deploying to the opposite end of the Earth – the North Pole – in a few weeks. It's colder at the South Pole, Yandik said.
Master Sgt. Willie Gizara, who has flown to Antarctica to photograph the missions on numerous occasions, said he once experienced an air temperature of -48 degrees with a wind chill of -112 degrees.
For pilots like Hicks and Yandik, the biggest challenge is flying in blizzard conditions then landing atop snow runways on skis instead of wheels.
"You don't have brakes with skis so you have to rely on the friction," Yandik said. "[It's like] a kid with a toboggan: Get a running start, jump on the toboggan, and slide to a stop. That's pretty much a ski landing."
Antarctica is dark for half the year and light for the other half. The 109th Airlift Wing's missions take place during a portion of the light period, from October to March.
The scientists whose missions they support are researching everything from crashed meteorites and "frozen" subatomic particles to whether humans can benefit from the antifreeze-like proteins found in some fish, Gizara said.
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