Airmen return from Antarctica

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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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