A Change of Seasons

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US Antarctic Program cargo handlers off-load cargo from a US Air Force cargo jet that delivered both passengers and cargo to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Several flights in late August were the first to McMurdo Station since early March. It was -13 degrees F (-25C) when this photo was taken. Photo Credit: Hailaeos Troy, National Science Foundation


After a winter of isolation and cold darkness, the small population at the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station in Antarctica welcomed the arrival of the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft that delivered fresh produce and fresh faces to the largest research station at the bottom of the world.

The arrival of the aircraft was part of winter fly-in or “WINFLY,” an annual operation of United States Antarctic Program (USAP), which is managed by NSF, to prepare McMurdo Station for the active Antarctic summer research season. As the new USAP prime contractor under the Antarctic Support Contract (ASC), Lockheed Martin and teammates recently supported this important activity.

Approximately 300 people and 375,000 pounds of cargo were transported over a series of flights during a two-week period. WINFLY flights bring personnel and cargo to McMurdo Station to prepare for the arrival of scientists and additional support staff in October, the beginning of the busy Antarctic summer. The early season staging allows preparation for research, such as sea ice investigations and upper atmospheric measurements that can only be done at this time of year.

Lockheed Martin’s role in WINFLY includes helping plan the annual operation for the USAP, which involves shipping cargo and transporting people from the United States to Christchurch, New Zealand, and then down to Antarctica.  Employees already “on the Ice” at McMurdo Station prepared an ice runway on which the military aircraft landed. 

Under ASC, Lockheed Martin manages the day-to-day operations of three year-round research stations, several field camps and two ice-strengthened research vessels in the Antarctic region.  To do this, they provide skilled staff and materials that are typical of any small town. The majority of the personnel deployed at WINFLY have a wide variety of jobs ranging from heavy equipment operators and mechanics to managers and cooks. Along with fresh food and mail, the cargo included scientific equipment and materials needed to prepare for the high-tempo field research season that starts in early October.

In 2011, NSF selected Lockheed Martin as the prime contractor for the USAP.  The program enables universities, research institutions and other nation’s programs to conduct valuable scientific research in the region. NSF and the USAP have been an anchoring U.S. presence in Antarctica since 1956 through its active and influential scientific research program, supporting fundamental discovery research that can only be done there and studying the Antarctic and its interactions with the rest of the planet. 

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US Antarctic Program passengers disembark from a US Air Force cargo plane at McMurdo Station. Six flights from New Zealand to McMurdo in late August, referred to as WinFly (winter fly-in), delivered personnel and cargo. Photo Credit: Hailaeos Troy, National Science Foundation

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