Scotia ‘ski birds’ return from Antarctica

SCOTIA, N.Y. (NEWS10) – After months of delivering supplies and help to Antarctica, members of the 109th Airlift Wing returned home to the Stratton Air National Guard base in Scotia.

It was the 27th season of Operation Deep Freeze.

“You get off the plane, you shiver a little and you look around and say, ‘Wow, this is actually beautiful,’” munitions specialist Master Sgt. Shaun Talbot said.

“When you are literally in a place that’s 1.5 times the size of the United States, you’re standing on ice that’s 2.5-3 miles thick, you are in the most remote place,” chief pilot Maj. David Panzera said.

Operation Deep Freeze supports the National Science Foundation’s U.S. Antarctic Program.

“We have the only ten ski equipped C-130s in the entire U.S. Air Force’s inventory – that’s Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines,” Panzera said. “We are the only ones with them.”

Panzera said the ‘ski birds,’ as they’re called, transported over 3,100 people and moved nearly five million pounds of cargo and fuel around the continent. Those on Antarctica are involved in research camps.

“People would ask, rightfully, what are the research efforts there,” Panzera said. “It’s not just climate, which some people think that’s all they do. It’s not. They do volcanology – the study of volcanoes – that’s right next to us called Mt. Arabis. They do glaciology, plate tectonics; they study the stars and other sciences are just amazing, especially sea life at the edges of the continent because nothing can live in the interior.”

Panzera said it’s hard to put into words how beautiful Antarctica is. This year was his seventeenth season with Operation Deep Freeze, and he said he looks forward to the different assignments every year.

“My flight, which takes me to the South Pole, is a two hour 45 minute flight,” he said. “But you fly over some of the most amazing mountain ice sceneries that the world holds.”

The operation started in October 2014. The average time spent in Antarctica for an airman was about two months at a time.

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