After receiving new, more powerful turboprop engines, the New York Air National Guard’s (ANG’s) 109th Airlift Wing (AW) deployed the first of five Lockheed LC-130H Hercules transports to Antarctica on October 19 in support of research operations being conducted by the US National Science Foundation.
The deployment came just over a week after the ski-equipped aircraft – which is affectionately nicknamed the ‘Skibird’ – was flown with new, more powerful NP2000 T56-A-15A 3.5 turboprop engines for the first time during a test flight at Stratton Air National Guard Base (ANGB) in Scotia, New York, on October 11. According to the 109th AW, these new engine upgrades build upon previous improvements of the NP2000 propellers, which were fully integrated onto the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) ten-strong LC-130H fleet in 2019. “These high-tech propellers increase torque for accelerated take-offs on ice and snow, and streamline maintenance requirements,” the wing added.
In the past, the ‘Skibirds’ have had trouble taking off from icy surfaces due to heavy cargo loads or friction lock under the skis they are uniquely equipped with. Until 1991, the aircraft were known to have been fitted with jet-assisted take-off (JATO) bottles to generate extra thrust to get the LC-130Hs off the snow or ice and into the air. The wing states that with the new, upgraded engines and capabilities, these issues should now become a thing of the past.
“These new engines will be a game changer for the unit,” said Master Sgt Christopher Dumond, a flight engineer with the 109th AW. “Combined with the LC-130H’s NP2000 eight-bladed propellers, this 3.5 engine is the finishing piece to the NP2000 system; modernising the 109th’s fleet into a more powerful polar airlift force.”
For the next four months, the 109th AW will be responsible for supporting the National Science Foundation in Antarctica, with approximately 420 airmen deploying for the mission, dubbed Operation Deep Freeze, in total. During which, the US Navy and USAF will work together to resupply US science stations across Antarctica. The 109th’s primary mission during this period will be to support research efforts at three different camps outside the McMurdo area, which comprise the South Pole Station, Western Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide Camp and Siple Dome Camp. The wing will also support airlift operations between New Zealand and Antarctica.
Commenting on this year’s deployment, Col Christian Sander – commander of the 109th AW – said: “With a standard four-month season of operating on the Antarctic continent ahead of us, I am extremely confident in the men and women of the 109th and their ability to execute our specialised mission with the highest level of professional skill.”