continued “There’s people down there right now that have been there all year,” DeConno said. “They were left down there in mid-February of last year and when they pull them out in mid-October here this will be the first time they have left.”
The trip from Stratton ANG to McMurdo in Antarctica is over 1,100 miles, with travel time lasting five days and 45 flight hours. The crew has to stop for refueling at five locations along the route.
Aircraft repairs are done without hangers right on the ice.
“They are changing engines in the elements,” DeConno said. “Think of the worst winters around here with the wind blowing, they are doing maintenance that is normally done in a somewhat temperate climate or hanger … all out in the open down there.”
All wing members making the trip receive special training for take off and landing of the ski planes. Training is done in-house and the main training area is in Greenland.
The maintenance crews normally attain a 95 percent reliability status for the aircraft, allowing the flight crews to carry as much cargo as possible to remote Antarctic outposts, according to Lt. Col. Jody Ankabrandt. The wing accumulates roughly 4,000 hours of flying time in the 16-week season, which she said is almost as much as most units fly in a year.