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Stauchy Blog » Blog Archive » Airdrop - Dec. 20 (JRS)

Airdrop - Dec. 20 (JRS)

There had been a slight buzz around station since the beginning of the season about an airdrop that was to occur during the summer. It has been several years since the last airdrop, but for several reasons, they had been stopped. To see more, higher-resolution pictures, see the Airdrop Picture Gallery. The Air National Guard, who operates all of the flights in and out of Pole, decided that they wanted to ensure that an airdrop was safe, in the event that an emergency drop was needed. Here is a blurb from Lt. Col. Greg Pyke about the airdrop plans:

“The main goal of this summer’s C-17 airdrop is proof of concept. Before, all airdrops in the C-141, LC130 and older aircraft at the pole were computed by the navigator. He would figure out a sight angle, he knew his ground speed and the ballistics of the cargo and chute. When the drop zone (DZ) crossed his sight angle (navigators had many techniques on sight angle, one was drawing a grease pencil line across the front windscreen) he would start a stop watch for a given number of seconds and would count down and call green light, the co-pilot would then release the load for the drop. This is a very low tech delivery method; not very accurate but very reliable if you could see the DZ. The C-17 has done away with the navigator and flight engineer and replaced them with computers. These are far more accurate, and in normal conditions some what reliable. But as all of you know the South Pole is not a normal place and the Air Force and Boeing would like to know a drop will work near the pole when the plane is flying in grid mode. The pilots have run the profile in the simulator with mixed results and Boeing “thinks it should work just fine”. Boeing has installed a special data collection computer on the C17; we will be using the data to help with any future software upgrade for polar operation which might be needed.

“The type of delivery method we will use on this drop is called a heavy equipment drop. We will be dropping 4 ea-16 foot platforms weighing between 16,625-17,765 pounds for a total weight of 68,500 pounds. This type of system can drop road graders, fuel bladders or other large equipment that needs a softer landing. This system employs a drogue chute, then an extraction package that will pull the cargo out of the aircraft, then deploy the main chutes (1 to 8 main chutes depending on the weight). After the load lands, the main chutes will release so the cargo is not dragged by any wind. The Type of drop we use to deliver food, fuel barrels or supplies that can hit the ground a little harder is called a container delivery system (CDS). This load, when released, will simply roll out the back and the chutes will deploy from a static line just like a paratrooper.

“There are very few options for relief for the folks who winter over. We want to make sure airdrop is a viable and safe option before it’s needed in an emergency.”

The drop was scheduled for the evening, and most people were planning on attending. Several of us were playing volleyball until the last possible moment before we had to head out to the radar dome for the best view of the drop. When we got out there, several people were already gathered, and more were showing up by the minute. After about 15 minutes of waiting, someone said that they could see the plane coming, and everybody looked up and squinted in order to catch a glimpse. The C-17 got closer and closer, and finally flew by, doing a practice run on its first flyby. It took a while for it to complete a box pattern and set up for the real thing. The plane came around again, and finally, the cargo door came open, and a drogue chute came out behind the plane (to applause, cheers and many shutters). With a quick motion, the first load was shot out the back, and another drogue was popped behind the plane. The second, third, fourth, and fifth platforms quickly followed the first, and before we knew it, there was a sky full of huge chutes (up to a 240 foot diameter!). The plane wasn’t too far off the ground (about 1000 feet), so by the time the last platform came out of the plane, the first one was almost down. All of the platforms gracefully hit the ground, and there was applause from the crowd. It was quite the spectacle! Here are some pics, but you can check out the full gallery at: , or check out a few videos (one of which is from the inside of the C-17 and is incredible) at: http://www.stauchy.net/videos.html

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We all walked back to the station while the C-17 circled one more time for practice. Just after getting back to the station, the announcement came over comms that the C-17 would do a flyby of the station along the runway. We ran out to the observation deck as the plane was lining up with the runway and were joined by about 30 other Polies with their cameras out. It flew along the runway and did small S-turns so that we could get a good view. There’s been over 150 flights into and out of the Pole by C-130’s, which never gets old, but the C-17 is a giant in comparison and it was a very cool sight.
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It was definitely a unique experience of this summer, and we were lucky to witness it.

It was definitely a unique experience of this summer, and we were lucky to witness it.-JRS

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