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AFTER 43 YEARS- THE UNITED STATES NAVY HANDS OVER 'OPERATION DEEP FREEZE IN THE ANTARCTIC TO THE AIR FORCE'S AIR NATIONAL GUARD.
A HISTORY OF THE FAMOUS VX-6 SQUADRON'S AVIATORS. THE MEN WHO FLEW THE FROZEN CONTINENT AND THE POLAR ICE CAP.
BY NOEL GILLESPIE
FREE LANCE AVIATION WRITER
When the sun set at the American Antarctic base at McMurdo Station on April 13th 1998- the curtain came down on the United States Navy's role in Antarctic logistic support and exploration after 42 years. Thus terminating an era - a century and a half of exploration and science during which time, their influence on polar exploration and Antarctic development has been unprecedented
"In the bottom of the planet lies an enchanted continent…. Like a pale sleeping princess. Sinister and beautiful. She lies in her frozen slumber, her billowy white robes of snow weirdly luminous with amethysts and emeralds of ice, her dreams iridescent ice halos around the sun and moon, her horizons painted with pastel shades of pink, gold, green and blue. Such is Antarctica, luring land of ever-lasting mystery".
Rear Admiral Richard E Byrd, writing in the"National Geographic"
The Navy can reflect back with pride to the US Navy Exploring Expedition led by Lt. Charles Wilkes from 1838-1842 aboard the US Ship "Vincennes." It was during this voyage that Wilkes and his navy explorers mapped more than 1500 kilometers of Antarctic coastline, sailing along the glaciers until they reached the area, now known as the Shackleton Ice Shelf.
Twenty years after Antarctic explorers- Captain Robert Scott and Lt. Ernest Shackleton, Carl Eielson, a former US Army pilot with Alaskan experience took off in a Lockheed Vega monoplane [X3903]. On November 16 1928, with Sir Hubert Wilkins as a passenger, Eielson took off from an improvised landing field on Deception Island off the Antarctic Peninsula to make the first important reconnaissance flight over the frozen continent. However, Wilkins achievement was overshadowed by the first Antarctic expedition of Commander [later Rear Admiral] Richard E Bryd.
Among the three aircraft brought to Antarctica in 1929,was a Ford Tri-motor [NX 4542], which Byrd had named "Floyd Bennett", after his long time aviator friend, he had chosen for the first flight to the North Pole a year earlier. It was constructed with the South Pole flight in mind, an all-metal structure mounted on skis with two 225hp Wright Whirlwind engines on its wings and a special 525 hp Wright Cyclone in its nose.
While the crew were sleeping, a130 knots Antarctic blizzard, tore the airplane from its moorings carrying it a mile .The Fokker was a complete write-off, its skis smashed and propeller resembling a corkscrew. During Byrd's second expedition NC4453 was dug out its engines salvaged. Thirty-seven years later, the wreckage was clearly visible from the air, in fact, it caused a great deal of excitement during "Operation Deep Freeze 1". A search and rescue mission carried by the naval command, mistook the wreck for the overdue missing Otter BuNo 144260 .The first VX-6 helicopters on the site, discovered and identified it as the much-weathered wreckage of NC 4453.
On Christmas Eve 1987 a New Zealand Scientific expedition party led by photographer Peter Cleary was in the Rockefeller and adjacent Alexandra Mountains when they came across the Fokker's buckled skeleton. The starboard tail and upper wing were embedded in the frozen snow; the rest of the Fokker NC4453 was clearly visible including the cockpit instrument panel, minus the instruments.
Byrd's other aircraft-Fairchild monoplane with a 425hp Wasp engine, capable of 140 mph, had wide windows along both sides and a glass floor to the cockpit, primarily designed for high altitude photography. The third aircraft was a single 425 hp engine Fokker Supper Universal- the ill fated "The Virginia" [NC 4453].
Byrd's first Antarctic expedition, while best known for his historic South Pole flight on November 29, proved beyond doubt, even with their limited range, the aircraft would be the primary tool for the continents exploration. Byrd experienced with every aviation technique known at the time, including aerial photography, airdropped mail, material and delivering scientific field parties.
During his 1933 expedition, Byrd carried four new aircraft- a Curtis Wright Cordore NR 12384, a Fairchild Pilgrim, a Fokker biplane and a Kellett K-4 single engine autogiro. Byrd's success in Antarctica was quickly taken up by other nations, including two Norwegian whaling expeditions, both of which carried airplanes to locate whales and to explore the icy continent.
Byrd was not the only American aviator to make his indelible mark on in Antarctica, Lincoln Ellsworth, who, like Byrd also flew over the South Pole, arrived in Antarctica in 1933, with an ambition to fly across the continent. After failing twice, Ellsworth took off in his Northrop Gama 2B NR 2269, from Dundee Island at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, after several landings to determine his position, or to wait out the Antarctic storms, he landed 16 miles from his goal. Together with his pilot H. Hollock-Krnyonhe walked the remaining distance.
However, while wintering over in 1934 from March 28 through to August 10, the Admiral almost died from carbon monoxide fumes, the result of a faulty stove and the engine which had powered his radio.
Ellisworth surveyed an area called American Highlands from the air during his 1938/39 Antarctica expedition. The decisive point in Antarctic exploration occurred in 1939, when the US Congress authorized the establishment of the US Antarctic Services Expedition .The task force under Byrd's command was to set up a number of bases on the West and East Coasts of the continent. However, all explorations were halted, with the outbreak of war.
After the end of the war, the US Navy embarked its first Antarctic Development Project-code named "Operation High Jump I" 1946-47. Again led by Admiral Byrd as Officer in Charge and Rear Admiral R H Cruzen commanding the 4,000 men of Task Force 68 they journeyed to Antarctica. . Aircraft were again high on the list of necessary aviation equipment for Antarctic exploration. Notwithstanding, the R4D's difficulties in respect of handling cargo in and out, refueling her by handpumps, and that extensive preheating was required to get her started. These difficulties were inconsequential when comparing them against the aircraft's all-round usefulness
Subsequently it was decided that six be among the aircraft to operate during "Operation Highjump I". The aircraft would be taken to the Antarctic aboard the aircraft Carrier "Philippine Sea" [CVA-47] at the edge of the Ross Sea's pack ice, fitted with JATO [jet assisted take-off] 18 bottles, this was a comparatively new concept, enabling the R4D-5's to take off, thus minimizing fuel consumption.
Taking off the carrier on wheels and landing on snow strip was a problem for the pilots. It had never been achieved before, with time not permitting any pilot training, It would be their first ever landing on a snow runway at Little America. During "Operation Deep " eight years later, retracted skis were attached.
Chocks were pulled away and "Trigger" Hawkes, who always flew with an unlighted cigar in his mouth, well before General Curtis become noted for it, launched the first R4D-5's BuNu 17238 successfully from the "Philippine Sea" [CVA-47]. The Douglas airplane rolled along the deck and roared into the Antarctic sky with fifty feet of flight deck to spare
Hawkes circled the carrier for half an hour, until Lcrd. Conrad "Gus" Shinn had the second R4D-4 airborne. Then after homing in on Mount Olympus's powerful radio beacon, the two pioneer aviators flew the 600 miles flight to Little America, where they landed on a specially marked strip five hours later. Soon all six R4D's were parked at "Little America's Municipal Airport", just in the 'nick of time' before the Antarctica weather whipping up strong winds across the improvised airfield, with the squadron now cowering from Antarctic blizzard in 'tent city".. Or inside the cold aircraft.
Tragedy occurred with PBM Martin Marine Seaplane- Marine George One had crashed into the Walker Mountains on December 30 1946, the plane had disintegrated and burnt on impact. Of the crew, Captain Caldwell was thrown clear, the pilot Ralph Leblanc sat unconscious in his burning cockpit, with his clothing on fire, with Co-pilot Lt. Kearns, Radioman Jim Robbins and Crew Chief Bill Warr going back into the cockpit to pull him out. Wendell Henderson at the radio panel was killed instantly, Ensign Max Lopez was found dead at the navigator's table, Flight Engineer Fred Williams while thrown clear but died two hours later.
With the flying season completed, what to do with the R4D's caused the command a problem. Not being able to land back on the carrier's deck, the aircraft were abandoned. Draining the oil, removing the classified instruments, facing the wind, the aircraft skis were lowered into the snow and tied down and left without dignity to the harsh Antarctic environment to await the next austral season.
US Icebreakers' Edisto' and 'Burton Island' spotted the aircraft, while visiting the bays of Whales in early February 1948, the snow was cleared away from one R4D-5's, their twin engines started; no attempt was made to fly it. The abandoned R4D's at Little American cost the US Navy $US365.000 [1947 figures]
It appeared that a gigantic section of the Ross Sea ice shelf had broken away, taking two thirds of Little America IV and the stored R4D's with it. After making aviation history, the six R4D's now along in the hostile environment, had an ignominious end as they drifted into the watery grave of the Ross Sea's icy waters.
Twenty six aircraft were used by Byrd's 1946/47 Antarctic exploration-  R4D-'s BuNo 17238,17197,12415,39092  Sikorsky HNS-1 BuNo 33585  HOS-1's , H)3S-1's  Noordyn JA-1.BuNo 57992  Grumman J2F-6's BuNo 39045,  Stinson Grasshopper OY-1's,  Martin PBM's and ]2] Curtiss SOC's
The Lockheed Aircraft Company was testing two P2V-2N airplanes, developed for aerial photography and reconnaissance in Antarctica. Building on the experimentation of the Ski-equipped R4D-5's in 1947,Lockeed developed skis to enable operation on the snow-covered terrain of Antarctica. With a range of 4,790 miles, the P2V Neptune's were ideal for the task. Carrying photographic and special navigational equipment as well as a Magnetic Airborne Detector [MAD] installed, replacing the tail turret. By removing the aircraft normal armament, including the nose gun and the deck turret, giving the P2V-2N a fuel capacity of 4,647 gallons and a maximum gross weight of 72,000 pound.
With preparations for "Highjump II" well advance., two Neptune [P2V-2N's] had been modified for polar photography and scientific investigation. Work on the five Martin Mariner flying boats [PBM-5's] and two Douglas Skytains [R4D's] were about 35 % complete. Around 20% of the modification to one Beechcraft [SNB-5] had been accomplished and ski installation for a second prototype had been developed. Three sets of skis had been fabricated for the Neptune's, while those on the R4D's had reached 70% completion.
The most striking innovation of "Highjump II" planning, was to fly the Neptune from New Zealand to the Antarctic. This was practicably demonstrated during "Deep Freeze I'. On December 20 1955, the very same P2V-2N's BuNo 122466 and 122465 which had been equipped with skis for "Highjump I" made the flight from Christchurch to McMurdo. During the following weeks, exploratory and photo flights confirmed the soundness of their earlier concept for their use in Antarctic
The latter BuNo 122465, under the command of Lt. David Carey, crashed while landing at McMurdo on October 18 the following year, after the fly-in from Christchurch,.NZ to commence "Deep Freeze II"
In connection with overwater flights, it is somewhat curious that planners consistently assumed that the R4D's could not make the trip from New Zealand to the Antarctic- which they did in 1956.
Had " Highjump II" not been cancelled, pending the outbreak of hostilities in Korea it was proposed to reactivate the R4D's, placing them back into service in order to establish stations for search and rescue.
However, the scientists were already planning for the IGY and Admiral Dufek learnt valuable lessons, which he applied with great skill in "Operation Deep Freeze I"
The Operation had its genesis in 1955 the establishment in of the US Naval Support Force Antarctica. The responsibility fell on Rear Admiral George Dufek, to carry out the air mission of the Task Force 43- air support of the South Pole Base and the subsequent flights of exploration; so an Experimental Squadron was formed. Established as an Air Development Squadron Six -[VX-6]with Commander G K Eebbe, USN, as commanding officer, was based at Air Naval Station, Patuxent River, and Maryland for organization and training, on January 12 1955.
The idea of using aircraft carriers and seaplanes, as was suggested for "Operation Highjump II" abortive operations, did not appear in the planning for "Deep Freeze I". They would not have been appropriate for the type of operations contemplated for the support of the International Geophysical Year. Helicopters assigned to the Icebreakers, proved to be useful-through to the present day.
The first few months flying in the harsh foreboding continent would surpass the expectations of the VX-6 crews, and in terms of human suffering and accidents, would establish the life of the aviators and test their endurance. In temperatures of 65 plus degrees below zero would make flying difficult, even for these specially trained polar aircrews. They would be expected to fly exploratory flights, often over uncharted harsh territory, plagued by sudden storms and mountain peaks, which would hide their presence in the clouds and whiteouts.
Flying over this Antarctic myriad landscape of crevasses, the tremendous pressures that would be generated, causing the surface of the ice to fracture and then form into thousands of enormous crevasses. The thoughts on the mind of these aviators, if they had to ditch.
A forbidding place it would be, if forced to land there. "Even if our R4D's skis hadn't penetrated one of these snow bridges as we landed, we would not have been able to safety leave the aircraft, for fear of an unseen crevasse swallowing us up" one R4D veteran" later recalled to this writer. This was among the fear on the minds of the young VX-6 aviators as they waited their departure many were reservist volunteering for the mission, reporting to Quonset Point Naval Air Station, in Rhode Island in June 1955 for Antarctic training. They were "new kids on the block" seeking adventure of going into the unknown.
However, a number of VX-6's "Deep Freeze I", had previous Polar experiences .Dr G K Ebbe, the Squadron's Commander is a veteran of the North Polar expedition "Ski-Jump One" he also had made a number of Air Force Ptarmigan [Weather] flights over the North Pole. Cdr. Eddie Ward, VX-6's Operations officer flew "Ski-Jump" I & II. Administration officer LCrd. O Fuske had sailed to the privately funded Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition in 1946, where he engaged in extensive aerial mapping operation. Cdr. Wiegand while LCdr. "Gus' Shinn where both engaged together with Captain. William Hawke in "Operation Highjump I". The 1947 Ronne Expedition had three aircraft-a Beechcraft C-45, a Strinson L-5 and a Noordyn Norseman.
To accomplish the mission ahead, the VX-6 was assigned specially equipped aircraft, painted bright colours assisting in identification in the event of accidents. It had been necessary in the 1955 expedition, to take aircraft designed for the specific mission in the temperate zone, aircraft that could be adopted with skis.
VX-6 was made up of a variety of aircraft, including two P-2V-2N's Neptune's, four UC-1 De Havilland Otter's, Douglas ,two R4D-5's, two R5D-'s Douglas R5D's,two C-117 Skytrains, C-121 Lockheed Supper Constellations along with seven HO4S-1 Sikorsky helicopters.. One of the Otters was delivered from DeHaviland Canadian factory, while the other the other was borrowed [later purchased] from the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Earlier Navy's Antarctic expeditions had determined the ability of ski-equipped aircraft to land and take-off from ice and snow, however, planners express serious reservations of deploying the R5D's and its ability to operate on the southern continent- they were the only squadrons aircraft not fitted with skis.
The Squadron became known as ANTARCTICDEVRON-SIX. The R4D's, after only days of flight familiarization, and fitted with a 200 gallon auxiliary tanks in each aircraft, flew out of Naval Air Station, Patuxent River. Maryland for Christchurch, New Zealand. More preparation was taken before "Deep Freeze II" commenced- with R4D and UF-1 aircrews spending some time on the Greenland Ice Cap.
The United States Support Force Antarctica-Task Force '43 sailed from Norfolk on November 14 en route for New Zealand under the command of Rear Admiral George Dukek aboard the flagship USS "Arneb" [AKA-56] arriving a few days after the Squadron had touched down at Wigram. Air Force Base in Christchurch.
The VX-6 suffered their first loss in Christchurch before the squadron flew south, a Sikorsky HO4S-3 helicopter BuNo 138519 crashed in Port Lyttelton. It had just been unloaded from the USNS " Greenville Victory" [TAK 237], which had carried it from the US, when it crashed on take-off from the pier, when the tail rotor control failed. The helicopter destined for use in the Antarctic was destroyed.
Two R4D-6's, two [DC-4's] R5D's, two Neptune's [P2V-7], two Albatrosses [UF-1L] waited at Christchurch for the historic flight south, while all the ships of the task force were at sea. The US Icebreakers "Glacier" [GB-4] and the "Edisto" [WPB-1313] were steaming towards McMurdo South. The US Naval cargo ships "Arneb" [AKA-56] "Wyandol", [AKA-92 her hull number changed in 1969 to AK 283] and "Greenville Victory" [AK 237] and the tanker "Nespelen" [AKA-55] to process to Ocean stations. The Coast Guard "Eastwind" [WAGB-279] towing the YOG 34 with her load of fuel to McMurdo.
George Dufek, a doughty polar explorer, a veteran of four Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, the task force's commander led an armada of seven ships and 1850 men to establish an airfield and operational base at McMurdo Sound.
With ship ocean stations starting from New Zealand, spaced every 250 miles apart along meridian 170-degree east. This was the path for the aircraft waiting at Christchurch for their historic flight south.
As the Flagship "Arneb" approached her ocean station on December 19, Dufek received word from Captain Ketchum that the ice runway at McMurdo was "A OK" for receiving the aircraft. "The weather for the flight is right now Admiral and should remain so for several days" The helicopters And the Canadian UC-1 DeHavilland Otters were delivered to McMurdo, Little America, Little America V, and to Wilkes Station by ships via the Weddell Sea.
The Admiral radioed Christchurch that the squadron take-off the following day, Instructing all crews "make last minutes adjustment and preparation and write that last letter home- get ready for your appointment with destiny, good luck chaps, see you at McMurdo".
Dufek's issued a three-word command "Launch all aircraft"
December 20th 1955 was a historical day in aviation At 4am the first to leave were the VX-6 Squadron's Neptune's P2V-2N BuNo 122465 [Lockheed Serial No 126-1096] and BuNo 122466 [126-1097]. Followed four hours later the four engine R5D's Skymasters BuNo 56505 and BuNo 56528 left Wigram AFB, NZ on the 2,100 non-stop, nautical mile flight for Little America, Antarctica. VX-6 Squadron's "Ice Pirates" or "Puckered Penguins" - as the crews were to become known were ready. All VX-6 aircraft carried side numbers XD-[ Xray Dog ]
The squadron would meet all these challenges, yet unknown to them, as they sat apprehensively on the flight deck, before setting out on the longest logistical flight of their lives. The Antarctic winter, flying within this continent with its perpetual dark polar winter nights, extremely low temperatures and zero visibility. "White out' conditions, all making their job extremely hazardous. Many of their squadron would be seriously injured, with Christchurch hospital seventy hours away, many would die.
Because the two R4D-5's BuNo 17274 and BuNo 17246 and the two Albatross UF-1L BuNo 142428 and BuNo 142129 would be operating at the near limit of their range, they were moved 320km south of Christchurch to Taieri Airport outside Dunedin, at 7am. There was no runway at the airport in 1955, just a grass field. The R4D-5's taxied to the edge of the grass field and await take off at 10 minutes intervals. Another R4D BuNo 17272 was first assigned to the Squadron- but no record could found of it being in Antarctica.
Flashing though the pilot's minds as their R4D-5's left New Zealand, creeping forward about 200 feet per minute. What was awaiting them in Antarctica?. Getting the "Gooney Bird" off some unprepared ice, in -85 degrees on remote locations, no runways, no boundary markers, no signals telling us where to land. Where the ice surfaces have been roughened by winds producing patterns in the snow called 'Sastrugi", in the loneliest place in the world. Would the engines fail? would the skis freeze to the surface? Would our landing gear survive the icy terrain?
The take-off was routine, aircraft flying low the first few hundred miles, until reaching the bottom of New Zealand, in order to conserve fuel. They began to climb just before passing over "Greenville Victory " at Station "Able". Half way into the flight, the armada encountered 20-knots headwinds, which was gobbling up the fuel at an unacceptable rate. It soon became evident that the 'Gooney Birds" and Albatrosses were in serious trouble .To make the journey successfully these aircraft, need to maintain an average ground speed of 115 knots. With head winds, the aircraft reported achieving only 105 knots.
First the Albatrosses turn back to Dunedin, six aircraft kept coming. The pilot of one of the R4D-5 BuNo 142460] Korora II" Lt. "Gus 'Shinn got a radar check on the "Nespelen" at station "Charlie". The he reported…"STRONG
HEAD WINDS.DON'T THINK WE CAN MAKE IT TO MCMURDO.REQUEST PERMISSION TO CONTINUE AND IN EMERGENCY CRASH-LAND ON CAPE ADARE'.
Cape Adare is a head land of Victoria Land, 270 miles north of the ice landing strip at McMurdo. It is rough and rugged surrounded by turbulent water and the ice of the Ross Sea, and no landing strip. Not even a flat piece of ice.
Dufek refused to accept the high percentage of risk, to the aircraft and their crews ordering them back. The R4D-5 and UC-1 pilots were far from happy, returning to Dunedin under protest a few meager miles short of the 'point of no return'. Had they continued, they would have ditched in the icy Antarctic water 250 miles short of McMurdo, to almost certain death. The aircraft were airborne for just under fourteen hours by the time they touched down back in New Zealand. The 'Point of no Return"- is the point where there is no longer sufficient fuel for the aircraft to return to New Zealand.
The UC-1 were dropped from the VX-6 inventories and never participated in future Antarctic operations.
The order to launch was given in the face of advice to the contrary by New Zealand meteorologists to whom US Naval aviators had paid tribute for their accuracy. The speed of a high-pressure ridge approaching the New Zealand-McMurdo flight path was miscalculated by the US Navy's Task Force meteorological aboard the flagship "Arneb". Had the fly-in been launch a day earlier, as suggested by New Zealand weather authorities, the four short range aircraft would have made it to the Antarctic continent.
After making two more attempts to fly south, Lt. Commanders Shinn and Frankiewicz flew the R4D's back to their Maryland Base at Patuxent.
The first aircraft to land on the ice was Lt. Commander Joseph Entrikin’s Neptune BuNo 122465, he remarked as he stepped out onto the ice. " It’s the most miserable flight I ever made".."Routine" said Commander Henry Jorda, as he stepped out from his Skymaster BuNo 56528, duffel bag in hand. "We're the first in history to land aircraft on wheels in the Antarctic from land outside Antarctica "Pan American can now start their schedules to the Antarctic".
The Skymasters [ R5D's ] do not have skis. Today the Lockheed C-141 and C-5 cover the distance five hours.
R4D pilots soon discovered that taking off and landing from unprepared ice runways required special skills and unorthodox methods. The wheel -equipped R5D's required minimum 1,500 feet to take off, lacking the normal acceptable runway markers, they had to walk off 15,000 feet and mark the runway as they went, while keeping close vigilance for seals and penguin holes.
VX-6 aviator's experiences of Antarctica in 1947 were soon to materialize. Only a few days earlier, after having trained for the harsh conditions of the Antarctic environment, had not been disappointed. Reaching the continent, after the flight from New Zealand, the aviators had to erect survival tents and huddle in their aircraft in -38 degrees to await the arrival of the ships.
Refueling aircraft in Antarctica was an initial major problem for VX-6. The US tanker "Nespelem" provided the fuel, but this in itself created problems. One of the Squadron's Neptune's hit a section of 'rough" ice while landing beside the tanker, tearing the polyethylene coating from its skis- while another took so much time refueling from the tanker, forcing the VX-6 command to review the refueling procedures.
A few days later on December 22, the Otter BuNo 142424 crashed on take off near Cape Bird, Ross Sea. Onboard were CMDR Hawks, Lt. Weiland, the planes Captain , Edward Crandall, CRDR George Oliver who broke his knee and a Seabee . The Seebee's injury was so serious, he was flown back to Christchurch hospital then onto a US hospital, and he became a permanently disabled. Hawkes report to the Squadron that he had noticed something wrong with the controls on take-off. These appeared 'spongy' and could not move forward.
Fifty feet after take off, the Otters skis brushed the snow, the aircraft hitting the ground hard and flat, forcing both main ski struts into the fuselage. All removable parts were salvaged; the Otter floated out to sea and sunk
Three other crashes occurred between February 3 and 10,1956- this sequence of events began when an UC-1 Otter BuNo 144260 with a three man crew was dispatched from Little America V to pick up a three man traverse party. The plane started to ice up while flying at 4,000 feet.
When ice continued to form on the propeller, the Otter flew into the summit of Mount Edward VII Peninsula. Rear Admiral Dufek ordered a P2V-2N Neptune BuNo 122466 LCRD Jack Torbert, the Neptune fleet plane commander, which had already returned to the NAS Patuxent River, Maryland's, back to Antarctica.
It took off with a parachutist on board on a rescue mission; the flight path was through South America to Terra Del Fuego, then direct to Little America aboard. The P2V-N was Capt. Ray Hudman, an USMC paramedic. Over the northern coast of Venezuela the aircraft's lost the starboard engine. Torbet elected to return to Pierco Airport, Trinidad. B.W.I.
Fifteen miles from the coast, the port engines failed. He made a 'dead stick' landing in the only jungle clearing in a remote jungle swamp. The plane was completely demolished. Both wings were ripped off and the hull ruptured, all the crew survived unhurt and were rescued by Venezuelan authorities. Ironically, Capt. Hudman aboard the P2V-2N BuNo 122465 was to be killed when his Neptune crashed while landing on the sea ice runway at McMurdo, after the fly in from Christchurch NZ in 'Deep Freeze II". Eight months later
The crash site was finally; located, by another Otter flying from Little America V, the same day the Neptune had crashed in Venezuela, a helicopter was sent to recover the survivors, who had abandoned the wreck and had walked 40 of the 110 miles back to base.
On February 10 the USN "Glacier" arrived at "Little American V" to deliver the Otter BuNo 144259 for the rescue flight, however during the unloading, a cable broke sending the UC-1 plunging onto the ice shelf and landing on its right wing and main landing gear. It was considered a 'strike' when the fall extensively fractured its fuselage and wing.
The Squadron began their major exploration of the Antarctic continent on January 3 1956, before the season ended, nine long -range flights were made. For the first time man was exposed to many areas of the Antarctic, never before seen by man. Sudden storms whiteouts and unseen mountains tops hidden by cloud plagued these flights.
On many occasions the VX-6 Squadron pilots encountered whiteouts, which resembles a heavy fog. Caused by sunlight penetrating white cloud mass, reaching the snow then bouncing black and forth between the cloud and snow. This quirk of nature reduces visibility to zero and is conducive to vertigo.
A Neptune P2V-7 BuNo 140436 flown by LCdr. Entrikin almost ended in tragedy. Flying over unexplored Antarctica some 1000 miles from McMurdo, Entrikin had only just radioed his routine position report, when distress signals were picked up the CIC room of the Cargo Ship USN " Wyandot . The Squadron commander immediately ordered a "Search and Rescue" operation. The P2V-7"s port engine was running rough-the engine analyzer indicated an arcing distributor.
Twenty minutes later power on the starboard engine dropped from 140 BMEP to 90 BMEP. This severe drop was accompanied by backfiring and erratic prop operations. With the ice cap altitude at 11,000 feet and the ski equipped P2V maximum ceiling for a single engine is 6000 ft. Entrickin continued operating the below par starboard engine, until the prop created more drag then thrust, then feathering it thus enabling him to limp back to McMurdo
With total engine failure appearing imminent, Entrickin's crew jettisoned all equipment and gear not vital for survival. Another VX-6 pilot flying that day reported his cockpit gauges showing no oil pressure, because oil had frozen in the line and that his heavily frosted hoping the windscreen would clear up, after the R4D-5 had reached 1,000 feet. Such was the weather conditions the Squadron faced in the first few days.
A P2-V, BuNo 122466 -[LCdr Jack Torbert], low on fuel after its flight in from New Zealand took off to the crash site. However, on arrival, several of the survivors were so badly injured, loading them aboard the Otter, proved a problem. The physical features of the P2V prevented the stretchers from entering its dorman doors. The nearest medical facility was onboard the Icebreaker " Edisto" some 300 miles north escorting the fleet through the pack ice. After attempts to call New Zealand had failed due to atmospheric conditions garbling radio transmission. The problem was solved, when Comdr. Joda took off from McMurdo in his R5D BuNo 565528 XD/3 with less then 90 minutes fuel aboard, after reaching 10,000 feet it functioned as a portable transmission facility, relaying the messages to the "Edisto", who raced to the rescue.
Two of the Otters UC-1's operating were BuNo 142424 and 142427 during Deep Freeze 11 of the six UC-1's used by VX-6-one BuNo 144669, was on loan to the Belgian Dutch Antarctic Expedition as redesigned 00-HAD. In 1976 the last Antarctic surviving UC-1 BuNo 144672 was transferred to the NMNA-Naval Aviation Museum and placed on public view.
Other UC-1 operated by VX-6 in the Wendell Sea 1965-58 BuNo 144670-# 144671 and #144672, In Little America 1955-56 BuNo 142414 and #143425, while during 1956-57 five Otters were based at McMurdo BuNo 122426-#14227 #144259 #1144261 and #144260.in addition BuNo 144669 and #144674 were used in 1957-58
Also deployed by VX-6 were four Sikorsky HUS-1A's BuNo's 144655-#144657-#144660 and #144662-these helicopters were also deployed in Deep Freeze II & III. The squadron operated five Sikorsky HRS-3's BuNo's 138516 at McMurdo, BuNo138579-#138494,# 138494 at Little America and BuNo 138507 operating from Ellsworth from 1955-58.
In March 1956, VX-6 after having completed its first deployment mission to the Antarctic, the squadron's squadron home base was transferred from Patuxent River, to Naval Air Station, Quonset Point Rhodes Island. Capt. Douglas Cordiner, former Task Force operation officer assumed command. During the "Wintering Over", all hands regardless of rank, pitched in performed varies maintenance tasks. Prior to the beginning of the first fly-in from Christchurch, all aircraft had to be dug out and 'de-wintered' and ready for flights. All crewmembers of VX-6 had various tasks. As a C-130 loadmaster for example, their duties were to load, fuel, configure the weight and balance then act as flight stewards when passengers were carried. Additionally, each member of the crew were expected to assist and perform any maintenance duties, when required, For example engine changes, hydraulic maintenance, black boc changes etc.
When " Deep Freeze II" commence in 1956, it was deemed necessary to establish an auxiliary summer station near the foot of the Beardmore Glacier. Its principal function was to serve as a refueling stop for the planned landing at the Pole, by a ski-equipped R4D-5 and subsequent regular flights to the Pole Station which was to be constructed later that year by the Navy's SEEBBES.
It was decided to fly a R5D BuNo 56258 XD/3 [Lt. Hank Jorda in the pilot's seat] to the ice two days in advanced of VX-6 main fleet, with Dufek on board. Apart from heavy icing four hours into the flight, the flight was normal. Handing over the mail etc to the wintering over party, who had been on their own for eight month in an darkened Antarctica, during which time they had spent `some 100,000 hours building the ice runway.
Weather for the October 17 fly-in was marginal. The day previously, a total 'whiteout" one of the Antarctic worst feature, virtually isolated McMurdo from the outside world, with communications all but cut off. Earlier C-124 "Globemaster flights from Christchurch were cancelled, a message to Navy command at Wigam AFB "Blizzard covering runway-hold aircraft"
The four R4D-5's, after again flying south to Taieri from Christchurch, with larger cabin 600-gallon fuel tanks were installed to increase their range. Watched by several thousand, they departed at 6pm. BuNo 17274 XD/4 "Charlene"-named by the aircraft commander Eddie Frankiewicz, after a little Michigan girl Charlene Hall, who was dying of an incurable disease, was the first to take off. All R4D's were heavily overloaded with 37274 pounds, not using the JATO until safety airborne; Frankiewicz then fired all fifteen bottles -4-4-4-and 3, setting his rubber tailwheel afire in the process. "Gus Shinn and the Squadron's Commander Capt. Cordiner took off next in BuNo 17246, followed by Lt. Harvey Speed BuNo 12418 and Lt. Roy Curtis in BuNo 17276 bring up the rear.
The Skymasters R5D-3 BuNo 56505 with Cdr. Eddie Ward and BuNo 56528 [Lt. Jorda], the P2V Neptune BuNo 140434 [Lockheed Serial No 726-7093] Lt.Dave Carey, two P2V-7 BuNo 140439 [726-7098]. The Neptune's airplane Commander LCDR Jack Torbett and BuNo 122465 LCRD Charlie Otter [the P2V-7's] were configured with two jet pods under the wings], flew direct from Christchurch. All six aircraft encountered testing head winds and whiteout conditions.
Note: the P2V BuNo 122464 which crashed off the coast of Venezuela during 'Deep Freeze 1" was one of the two P2V's originally assigned toVX-6 and deployed to the Antarctic in 1955.
As the VX-6 pilots few south, LCDR "Gus" Shinn BuNo 17246 reported that he had lost control of his gyro-stabilized compass, the most important navigational equipment for Antarctic flying [ since the magnetic compass became unusable as the fleet approached the magnetic pole. They had to rely on a special gygo compass for direction]. . Should this instrument cease to function properly, there was nothing left to give the pilot the information as to how he should steer his aircraft. With no stars, the pilot would have wondered aimlessly until his fuel was gone.
Just ahead of Shinn, was Lt. Harvey Speed the commander of another R4D-5 BuNo 12418 'Que Sera Sera" [later to make aviation history in the Antarctic], who heroically revised his aircraft and flew northwards until he picked up the disabled R4D on his radar. The two aircraft joined up in the dark and Speed did the navigating for both R4D's all the way to McMurdo. In doing this Speed jeopardized his own aircraft somewhat, since he had used up fuel, he needed to reach McMurdo. Had there been navigational errors or if the weather was bad on his arrival, necessitating several instrument approaches to the ice runway, this lack of fuel would have spelled disaster.
After passing the 'point of no return' Crd. Eddie Ward's R5D BuNo 56505 number 4 engine backfired violently and momentarily flamed up " We proceeded at reduced power for the rest of the flight, when we arrived at McMurdo I was down to a 30 minute reserve". He later told me. Both groups of aircraft were two hours behind schedule- the R5D-'s and P2V landed at 8.30am after almost 14 hours in the air, while the last R4D-5 BuNo 17246 arrived at 11.15am, 17 hours out of Tareri.
However, tragedy, struck the squadron .The first aircraft to land on October 18 was an P2V-2N Neptune BuNo 122465 "Boopsie" with Lt. David Carey at the controls. The weather at McMurdo had deteriorated due to a severe snowstorm with the ceiling level of three hundred feet and poor visibility. Ground Control operators were guiding Lt. David Carey in, watched as the plane came down though the overcast to the left of the runway. Making a right turn to his downwind leg, his right wing dropped and the Neptune nosed down. Realizing he was out of control, Dufek and the ground crew were horrified and helpless.
Carey made the first ever Antarctic ground controlled approach [GCA] the sea ice runway from 12,000 to 300 feet in altitude then elected to make a visual landing; he pulled up to make another landing approach. With the landing gear down, he banked to the right [there were hills in close vicinity to the left] the Neptune fell its nose and right struck the ice and cartwheeled to the left and disintegrated.
When rescue reached the tangle wreckage of the Neptune #122465 was completely demolished in a tangled wreak on the ice runway. Carey and ADI Charles Miller, the radioman were killed instantly, Capt. Raymond Hudman, USMC, the leader of the pararescue team and a survivor of the Venezuela crash, died few hours later. Petty Officer Clifford Allsup was thrown clear on impact with nothing more than minor head and chest injury.
The critically injured officer died four days later. The other four seriously injured crew had to wait until until the weather had improved sufficiently. Thus enabling the huge C-124C Globemasters "Miss North Caroline" of the 18th Air Force to begin their flights to McMurdo from Christchurch, to be airlifted back to New Zealand, under the command of Col. Horace Crosswell, the USAF Group Commander. The evacuation of wounded is one of the many tasks for which the C-124 were built, serving such mission during the Korean War.
37-Year-old Eddie Frankiewicz's R4D BuNo 17274 XD/4 was the second R4D to land, without a tail wheel burnt off leaving Dunedin. The last aircraft roared down the rugged ice runway with only seconds to spare in the intervals between snow quails. Lt. Crd. Roy Curis reported compass trouble, causing him to make a landfall 350 miles west of their planned course to Cape Adare, which marks the west end of the Ross Sea.
Says Jim Waldron; "We taxied from the runway to the parking lot, I noted in the distance the tail of a P2V aircraft sitting at a crazy angle and almost upside down. For a moment I couldn't surmise what I was looking at. My mind was weary from hours in the air and it refused to accept the reality that this was the tail of the P2V, which overtook our sluggish R4D, as we slowly, plodded southwards to McMurdo. It, and its crew, had come to a violent end there on the sea ice. I communicated this to Eddie, as he taxied our aircraft, and I can still hear his repeated curses as he realizes that some dreadful thing had happened on the ice in front of us."
Describing the tragic scene for his R5D, Crd Eddie Ward said after he had called McMurdo's tower for ADF approach. "At 50 ft altitude, when the needle swung I could barely make out the ice runway due to blowing snow and reduced visibility, I elected to wait for the "follow me" vehicle. Between heavy now showers I caught sight of the big red tail and twisted fuselage just ahead-four courageous men had died. I was deeply saddened" .The Neptune BuNo 122465 had to be cleared away so as the other aircraft could be brought down-with the four R4D's in the air, only 5.600 foot of the flag marked runway could be seen.
The first C-124, under the command of Col. Crosswell, unloaded 46,500 lbs. of cargo including an unassembled Otter. Their flying time from Christchurch was twelve hours twenty-three minutes. This flight left New Zealand on October 20,the third Globemaster to arrive "The State of Washington", landed nose wheel first, its struts buckled. When the propeller pitch was reversed, the huge transporter skidded to a sudden halt on the ice runway, causing three of its propellers to strike the ice. ."The State of Tennessee" suffered the same fate.
After it was towed off the runway to a 'parking area'- operations continued .A sixteen man repair team was sent from the US Air Force Material Command and the Douglas Aircraft Company, to Christchurch, with two C-124C's full of parts and repair equipment
On November 29, the "repair team' arrived at McMurdo aboard C-124C SN 52-1015 "State of Oregon " landed some 80 feet short of the runway, hit a snow bank at the far end of the runway with its landing gear failed and collapsed. The nose wheel blew out and the aircraft skidded to a halt, as fire enveloped the entire forward section. The C-124C was destroyed, however most of the repair parts and equipment were saved. For a while it was used as a parts storage building high on the hill, away from flight operations, while the fuselage was raised off the ground and used as a workshop at "Willy Field".
C-124C's were limited to landing and take-off from the ice runways at McMurdo, so their flights had to carefully planned and only in good weather, as there was no other place for these immense birds to land except McMurdo.
The C-124 known as "Blooming Globie" of the 18th US Air Force Military Transport [MAT] under the command of General Chester McCarty,[who six weeks prior to landing made the first air drop in history at the South Pole], had flown another C-124 over the North Pole.
In order to carry out their tasks of the numerous airdrops, the parachutes had to be packed and rigged. Five foot square 18 inches thick plywood and honeycombed cardboard platforms were constructed to carry four barrels of drummed fuel. These are loaded aboard the C-124's and dropped at the continents inland stations. The platforms are specially designed to absorb the shock once the cargo hits the snow, them from bursting on impact.
Some parachutes failed to open- their contents 'streamed in", smashing to bits or burying themselves deep in the snow, often never recoverable. On occasions, the parachute would remain inflated and take off like a rocket dragging the pallet like some monstrous motorized shed and disappear over the horizon.
During a normal season, the C-124's had to drop 3,000 barrels of the diesel fuel required at the South Pole, 1,400 drums of aviation fuel are required by VX-6 Squadron at Byrd together with 600 odd drums of diesel fuel for the station's personnel. When the Douglas C-124's first flights commenced in Antarctica, an alternative airfield had to be constructed. Many early flights were forced to return to Christchurch, when the weather closed in. A new runway was established. Called Kiel Field, named after Driver Max R Kiel, known by his mates as "Fat Max". Kiel, part of a tractor team hauling fuel for a fuel dump ready for the trail job the following October. D-8 tractors dragging wannigans [ houses on skis and sheds loaded with fuel. The party had traveled a hundred miles, in late March, when Kiel's noticed the snow was beginning to crumble.
Explosive was then used to blow the tops off the dangerous areas. He used his tractor to fill one crevasse with snow, building a bridge over it. While he was backing away, he and his D-8 plunged a hundred feet into another crevasse. Max Kiel was killed instantly. While his mates lowered themselves down by ropes to the tractor, but it wasn't possible to extricate him from his machine. His body remained in his icy grave.
The R4D-5 and R4D-6 models processed only marginal characteristics for its operation at the South Pole, these became evident on almost every flight. These models had their skis coated with polyethylene and Teflon. Even then, every take off was an adventure, even after the landing strip had been 'dragged.
The R4D's, after firing their JATO, often disappeared in a cloud of snow and smoke, leaving those on the ground with the feeling of helplessness, anxiously straining their eyes to see whether the pilot had actually made it.
To gain additional carrying capacity, the fuselage fuel tanks were removed and an airfield had to execute at Beardmore Station, so the aircraft could pick up additional fuel to return to McMurdo Station.
Similarly the R5D VX-6 aviators had to carry out several familiarization flights, when they first arrived in Antarctica, so they could adapt themselves to the rough ice runways conditions, almost antediluvian. Before each takeoff, pilots had to 'walk' the runway, marking any deficiencies, snowdrift cracks and other taxi hazards with a red flag.
With gross takeoff weights in excess of 72.000 pounds, R5D pilots fired a pair of JATO bottles at 50 knots, this would increase their speed to 60 knots, thus allowing the nose wheel to lift, and by then normal nose speed was attained when the plane airspeed reached 70 knots. Pilots would then fire the second and third pair of JATO bottles at twenty-three second intervals until it reached 96knots.
Later, C-130 pilots had to use the "seaplane-type" approach. "This meant at about 50 to 100 feet above the terrain, ground effect would occur thus causing the aircraft to level off. Pilots had to resist the temptation to nose over and instead squeak off some power and reestablish a rate of descent-this required some finesse," says a VX-6 C-130 pilot Commander Sid Wegert.
If zero-zero conditions existed at Williams Field, for example, the aircraft would be vectored to a pre-surveyed whiteout landing zone where there were no obstacles to flight within twenty miles of the selected flight path. After following pre-established whiteout procedures, the Antarctic aviators would commence a 100 to 200 fpm rate of descent with landing skies and flaps down- the minimum rate of descent was critical and should exceed the 200 fpm C-130 limit. Similar limits applied to all Antarctic aircraft.
" Landing with skis in deep snow was the most unusual experience", says. James Waldron. 'It was similar to landing on a deep bed of feathers, conversely touching down on glacier ice was much like landing on hard rock".
Cordiner made a reconnaissance flight on October 26 to select a site. The location was at the foot of the Liv Glacier, up which Byrd had flown in 1929, this station was designated as the Breadmore-Scott Auxiliary Base.The principal function of this installation was to serve as refueling stop for the "Gooney Birds" en-route to the South Pole. As well as providing 'homing signal' and weather reports for the ski -equipped polar flights.
With Major C Ellen on the flightdeck of a C-124, was "Trigger " Hawkes, making a reconnaissance flight, Dufek's scheduled the historic flight for October 31 1956
Preparations for the air assault on the South Pole, and the subsequent air operations an R4-D BuNo 17274 with Eddie Frankiewicz as commander landed a party of men and equipment led by Michael Baronick at the foot of the Liv Glacier. to establish the camp. With the weather closing in, Frankiewicz considered it prudent to wait on the frozen ground longer then necessary. Pushing the men out the door along with their gear he took off, leaving a C-124 to air drop additional supplies.
The crew members of R4D-5 BuNu 12418 XD/8 crew were Crd Conrad "Gus Conrad Shinn, ADJ2 John Struder, Mechanic, Lt, John Swadene, navigator, AT2 William Cumbie, radio technician Capt, William Hawkes and Capt. Douglas Cordiner-the Squadron's Commander. And Rear Adm.Dufek completing the crew
Another R4D-5 BuNo 17274 with LCDR Eddie Frankiewicz and Lt. Jim Walden flew to Beardmore Station, remaining in a ready condition, with survival gear and additional fuel, in case Shinn couldn't get off the ground or either engine failure or was forced to land in some remote location. As VX-6's Aircraft Maintenance Officer, Frankiewicz's R4D- was fitted with Teflon covered ski bottoms, while the other Douglas aircraft had polyurethane covered skis which had a higher coefficient of friction.
On October 31, with Admiral Dufek aboard, the R4D-5 fatalistically named "Que Sera Sera" [What will be, will be ],took off from the floating airstrip at McMurdo. Roaring up the Beardmore, however, "Hank' Jorda's Skymaster BuNo 56528 XD/3 developed engine trouble and returned to base.
Shinn made three low level passes to examine the surface, while the C-121, with a number of news correspondents aboard, positioned itself high over the Pole providing navigational information, bought the plane down, bouncing over the sastrug before coming to a stop at 8.34 am. - the date 31 October 1956, seven hours after leaving McMurdo. Dufek stepped from the aircraft, the first man to stand on the South Pole since Amundson and Scott, some 45 years previously. It was -58 degree F, intensified by chilling Antarctic 15-knot winds. Shinn kept the R4D engines running, while Dufek froze his lungs after taking a deep breath of the supercold.
Adm. Duffel's participation was appropriate given that he had been a member of all the US Antarctic expeditions since he. navigated Adm. Richard Byrd'e flagship "USS Bear" in 1939-41."told this writer later " it was like going into another world, only after a few minutes I noticed Capt.'s Cordiner's face was white with frostbite"
After the American flag was 'punched' into the frozen surface, signaling the arrival of the first Americans, Strider expressed grave concerns, his engines were leaking oil and his skis freezing to the snow-ice polar surface. After 49 minutes on the ice, Hawkes turn to Defuk ," Boss, I cant move the fingers of this hand, I think they're frozen ". The Admiral replied "Let get to hell out of here", then drama. Shinn revved the engines, nothing happened; the skis were frozen solid to ice plateau.
At 9,200 feet, the engines weren't able to develop full power in the thin air, during the landing the R4D's skis heated a few degrees from the friction, causing the snow to melt subsequently freezing to the skis. With the aircraft effectively frozen to the South Pole and the engines now turning at full power, Shinn fired four of his JATO's attracted to the aircraft 's underside; this failed to shake the Dakota loose.
The "Gooney Bird" shuddered, but didn't move an inch. Four bottles are equivalent to one 1,000 horsepower engine, for a thirty- second burn. Now drama on the flight deck "McMurdo , we have a problem", Hawkes crackled voice over the radio to Base. Shinn quickly fired four more bottles; the aircraft rocked and move forward slightly. He fired four more, still no liftoff; he had four bottles left. Defuk was now considering spending the night at the pole, as did a R4D the following season. Shinn, with his finger crossed- fired the last four bottles.
During take-off Shinn and his co-pilot couldn't see through their windshield and had to use instruments.
To those circling above aboard the Globemaster,"Que Sera Sera" momentarily appeared to have exploded and caught fire, as it disappeared in a swirl of flames, smoke and snow, as it bounced involuntary over the rough ice surface, then staggered into the air at sixty knots. The flight deck's windscreen had completely frozen, both inside and outside. Shinn was flying blind "Sixty knots that's not bloody flying speed Sir", Strider said to Shinn."No" was the grim reply, so as the 15 empty bottles were jettisoned fell to the polar surface "We're 2,500 pounds lighter now" Shinn said.
Shinn recalled these events to this writer years later. "Major Ellen was on top of us the whole time with his C-124 ready to drop supplies, it was mightily comforting listening to him on the radio. If you can't get off the ground I'd crash-land alongside of you and you will have a house to live in. The nicest part of the whole flight was seeing his monster flying around up there".
In the ensuring weeks, the R4D's flew many missions, plotting the least crevasse route from McMurdo to the Pole.
Of the original R4D crew of this historic flight William "Trigger:" Hawkes, and the navigator Dick Swadner are dead.
Among the correspondents aboard the C-124 was an 18 year old reporter for United Press [UP], one of his assignments was to photograph the historic occasion-one of his photos were used as the official US Navy photos of the landing.
The South Pole landing gave the "Gooney Bird" the polar double- On May 3 1952; an USAF C-47 had landed at the North Pole, during the establishing of a weather research station there. Lt.Cols William Benedict and Joseph Fletcher were at the controls.
However, other world-shaking events of the day overshadowed this historic mission. Events such as the British-French war with Egypt over the Suez Canal, the Hungarian uprising crushed by the Russians, civilization seemed to be on the brink of World War III, and the Melbourne Olympic Games about to start.
Normally R4D's pilots would discharged his passengers, field scientists and their equipment and readies the aircraft for take off. With him he has six banks of JATO bottles, eighteen in all, attracted beneath the aircraft, to provide additional power for take off- pushing the aircraft forward despite the friction of snow and ice against the skis. As the aircraft gathers speed across the rough Antarctic surfaces, the pilot fires banks of four bottles from a button on his control stick, as his speed increases, and successive banks of JATO bottles are fired until his aircraft is airborne.
During October 1956, Shinn made twelve R4D-5 trips - nine in BuNu 17246 XD/1 and two in BuNu 12418 XD/8.
Until they were released from operational Antarctic duties in 1968,the Navy operated six R4D-5L's [LC 47 H's] four R4D-6L's [LC-147J's] and six R4D-8L's [LC-117]
Flying the R4D's in Antarctic was always difficult. They were extraordinary cold Cranky machines, on long wearying flight; operations in the Antarctic were far from "strictly routine". Engine failures, frozen fuel and oil pipes, lack of property maintenance, some 'mustang' type pilots, the always presence of danger leaking in the Antarctic and long hours in the air, faced all aviators on the frozen continent daily. The perpetual fear or being stranded in temperatures 40 plus degrees below zero.
An example of this occurred in February 1957. A message was received to fly urgent supplies to personnel at the South Pole Station, all the summer support had returned to Christchurch aboard the USS "Curtis" three days previously. A C-124C Globemaster was dispatched from New Zealand, to fly surveillance and navigational cover for the R4D and crew. Without skis the C-124C could only take-off and land at McMurdo . Going back to the Pole this late in the season was extremely hazardous due to below zero temperatures.
Harvey Speed, was selected to fly in the R4D- BuNo12418 the only ski-equipped aircraft available. As the R4D was experiencing engines problem it was necessary to make three test flight, with maintenance staff working round the clock to get the "old girl" back in flying order. The weather closed in, as Speed left McMurdo, he managed to land at the 10,000 feet high plateau, drop off his cargo and passengers, load seven passengers for the flight back to McMurdo.
An hour after take-off, Speed experienced low oil pressure in the engine, which previously had problems, and was forced to land on the polar plateau. His engineer worked with few tools in zero temperatures to repairs the frozen pipeline. They spent two hours on an isolated plateau. . Had the engine refused to turn over, because of the low temperatures, it wouldn't have taken long for the engine to freeze solid.
Had Speed had not been able to get off the surface when he did, the standby crew at Little America would have had to fly his isolated location, with an engine heater, fuel, tools, survival equipment and the necessary equipment to get him airborne. It would have been an all or nothing situation the only other available flight crew was either in Christchurch, NZ or enroute to the States. It would have been many days to get them back and onto the ice. By the time assistance did arrive-the aircraft and crew would have been frozen solid on the windswept plateau. This was Antarctic aviation.
An R4D-8 BuNo 99853 delivering personnel and equipment to effect an engine change on P2V-7 BuNo 140439 was damaged during an emergency landing on one engine at Liv Camp on November 7. Again on November 27, BuNo 99853, while transporting a party of 11, including the Admiral and some media, with its starboard ski hanging vertically its starboard engine caught fire. CRD Frankiewicz made an emergency landing on an unprepared ' snow runway' under difficult visibility conditions.
Problems continued to mount, after a helicopter at Little America required an engine replacement, a P2V BuNo 122466 piloted by Lt. Robert Boiling had damaged a prop and blown a cylinder which had developed a fire minutes after departing from McMurdo.
These five aircraft required engine change simultaneously; three of which were at outlying locations, where no facilities were available for major aircraft repairs, and at best the living conditions could best be described as austere. However, VX-6 maintenance men meet the challenge, with the aircraft being returned to service in record time.
This meant flying a new Neptune engine to the South Pole for quick installation in 58 below zero temperatures. After first flying in with a disassembled 'cherry picker" to handle the operation, sometimes it meant using a 37 ton tractor to hoist a new engine into a R4D.The crew's home during these repairs consisted of a snow igloo of snow blocks and their aircraft's survival gear. Such was VX-6's early flight operations, on Christmas Eve 1956- the crew of R4D-5 BuNo 17274 LCDR's Eddie Frankiewicz and James Waldron flew a total of 19 hours in a days flying.
When the first C-124C landed at the South Pole on February 12 1957, there were freezing engines and other maintenance problems, which had plagued VX-6 since the commencement of the operations. When the giant transporter touched down, maintenance men attending to its frosted wings, Herman Nelson heaters had to be operated for several hours to warm the engines enough to start- but often they didn't.
During "Deep Freeze II" the squadron sustained four more aircraft loses, the first on December 31, when a Bell HTL-5 assigned to USS "Staten Island" from detachment 31 Helicopter Unity Squadron One, was destroyed when its engines failed on takeoff and crashed on the flight deck. On January 19 1957. The USS "Glacier's", helicopter BuNo 138595 from detachment 69 Helicopter Utility Squadron, Two crashed into the Ross Sea, its two crew barely escaped before the helicopter quickly sank in the freezing waters.
The third helicopter was lost on July 12 1957- when a VX-6 HO4-3 BuNo 138580 returning to McMurdo crashed short of base. The windscreen frosted and the visibility suddenly worsened from ice crystals in the Antarctic air. The VX-6 pilot Lt.Neil, who had only completed his basic helicopter training just before being sent to the Antarctic, was on a routine proficiency flight.
Settling on its tail, the helicopter burst into flames. While Neil and his front seat passenger escaped with only a few scratches, three of the passengers seated in the cabin suffered severe burns. A third passenger AD2 Nelson Cole , not buckled in his seat was thrown into the tail cone when the Sikorsky impacted and was consumed by the resulting fire and died later. The crash also injured some VX-6 firefighters.
On August 31 1957,the Squadron lost a UC-I Otter BuNo 142426.The aircraft had been tied down with double lines at Little America V, however, an 80 mph wind opened the tiedown rings blowing the Otter away.
Evacuation of personnel has been a major function of VX-6- at times carried out during the Antarctic's dangerous and extremely dangerous long cold polar winter six-month night. Comdr. James Waldron and Lt. Harvey Gardner can illustrate this best in the winter of 1957
A Roosevelt Island Traverse party scientist Mr. Peter Schoeck scientist was seriously injured after falling 60 feet into a crevasse, some 50 miles from Little America. Now in the Antarctic darkness, and weather only marginal at the crash site, the two took off in an UC-1 Otter BuNo 142425. Homing in on a low frequency, brought Waldron right over the campsite. On arrival at the remote accident scene, landing the Otter would have been extremely hazardous; visibility was so bad that Waldron couldn't see anything smaller than the outline of men, vehicles and dark streaks indicating the dreaded crevasses. Instructing the traverse leader to have his men form a straight-line 25 yards apart, beside the tracks made by the party's equipment, considered to be the safest landing 'field'.
The hard landing caused some damage to the Otter's skis. After picking up the injured man the take-off was not without concern, the surface was very rough, with the injured scientist feeling every bump adding to the suffering the crevasse had caused and rushed him to McMurdo and airlifted him to Christchurch.
This was all in a day's work for the Squadron. Waldron's and his co -pilot Lt. Gardner on this rescue mission. Gardner was himself killed along with his co-pilot Lt. Lawrence Farrell following year flying a Otter BuNo 144673 they had flown to a remote Antarctic site. On take-off from the landing area, they turned towards the mountains to the right of them, instead of the left, which would have placed them over open water. They were unable to climb over the hill, flying into it, they were both killed.
The worst fear of aviators flying in the Antarctic, were burns, which almost without exception, was the major injury in air crashes. While during the summer season, they could be evacuated back to Christchurch, NZ within a few days. However, during the 'wintering over', Navy personnel had to endure suffering beyond belief.
During the winter of 1956, McMurdo witness a severe helicopter accident, with one fatality and four seriously burnt crewmen. These had to be treated in McMurdo's infirmary for several months before being they could be flown back to Christchurch for long term care, in November. The Medical Officer, Dr Unger, himself a teetotaler, was forced to dispense brandy as a painkiller. His small clinic was taxed to its limits with several severe hand and leg injuries, subsequently considerable quantities of brandy was consumed.
Soon after experiencing unseasonal plus 40 degree Fahrenheit at McMurdo which caused the runway to deteriorate, with large holes appearing. This endangering the wheeled C-124 and R5D's returning to Christchurch. While the C-124's had dropped over 400 tons of cargo at the Pole and 39 tons of fuel at Byrd Station, their job was not finished. So VX-6's R4D's and P2V began non-stop stuttle cargo flights. By February 9,the airstrip was declared safe, thus allowing the return of the Globemasters to complete their task.
The P2V's were evacuated back to New Zealand after being plagued with ski problems in January 1957.
With the commencement of "Deep Freeze III", the R4-D5's and 6's left on the ice, were dug out and returned to service. Among the new aircraft to arrive for the season were two R4D-8's. BuNo's 17219 and 17274-; a modified, higher performance version. It was slightly longer and had large fuel and carrying capacities. While similar in appearance to its predecessor, the 8's had a squared off tail assembly rather the rounded one. Two additional 6's arrived in 1959/60 season BuNo 17246 and 39061.
While it had these operational advantages, pilots who flew both types of Dakotas, preferred the R4D-5's and 6's-their engines were more reliable, easier to maintain and because of their lower takeoff and landing speed, far less liable to incur damage in open field situations.
Flying R4D's in Antarctica say Commander Jim Waldron, "one was never without cold feet, Although we wore heaps of Arctic survival clothing, and kept the cockpit as warm as possible, the icy aluminum flight desk transmitted the outside 60 degree below temperatures directly to my feet. As a result my feet remained painfully cold from take-off to landing, with nothing at all to alleviate the pain. Constantly flexed my toes and ankles to ensure frostbite wouldn't set in.
"Buz" Dryfoose agrees, he recalled to me recently of a flight from Christchurch to McMurdo, While the trip was uneventful, our heaters "packed up". Consequently the internal temperature of the aircraft was 30 below zero, as we made a GCA at McMurdo the co-pilot and myself had to breathe alternately, so as the plane could scrape the frost off the windshield after we exhaled. It was twelve hours, as for fears; we were all too young and invincible to have any fears. I would love to go back again some day- but not in a Dakota
During 1957-58 the Squadron operated  R4D-5's BuNo 12918 and 17221 [4[R4D-5L's and 6L's BuNo 56528 56505 44669 39103 and 12418 R4D-8's BuNo 17219,17274,17246 99853 and 39061. Four Lockheed Neptune P2V's BuNo In Sept 1957 two more P2V-7LP's BuNo 140436, [Lockheed Serial No 726-7095] and 149437 [726-7096] joined the other two Neptune's modified by Lockheed, BuNo140437 and 140439.During the late 1950's BuNo 140439 was fitted with the Fulton Skyhook Retriever System.
Two of these P2V-7LP's were lost in Antarctic accidents-BuNo 140439 [Lockheed Serial no 726-7098] crashed on takeoff on November 9 1961 and BuNo 140434 later lost in a crash landing. LP-2J's as were used after 1962 and continued to support the Antarctic operations, until their replacement with the ski-equipped Lockheed C-130's in 1965.
The last two remaining polar explorers were retired to Davis-Monthan AFB to await their fate. BuNo 140437 was eventually broken up, while 140436 escaped the scrapper's torch and are reported in a private collection.
Two helicopters from detachment 30, Helicopter Utility Squadron One [HU-1] assigned to the USS Atka were lost. HUL-1 BuNo 143144 crashed on take-off, caught fire and burnt three minutes crashed taking off from the flight deck. Fights were suspended until the wreckage was pushed over the side and the flightdeck repaired. Two days later "Atka's" second helicopter the HO4S-3 BuNo 138498 crashed on the Ross Sea shelf enroute to Little America, while there were no injuries, the Sikorsky was out of commission for the remainder of the season...To permit "Atka" complete her assignments, a VX-6 helicopter was sent aboard
Whilst changing engines, is at the best of time disagreeable within the confines of a hanger, it was quite another task in the Antarctic. During "Deep Freeze III" a dozen engines were changed in cold below zero temperature conditions.
While it took over a month to get a replacement engine to the 10,000 ft Polar Station, an engine change was accomplished on a P2V-7 BuNo 140439 by four men in only four days. An R4D-8 BuNo 99853, supported by airbags, missing one main gear and the other made of pipe was operational in two days.A R4D-8 BuNo 17219, its right main gear collapsed half way between the Byrd and Pole Stations, was returned to Little America just 19 hours after landing at the Plateau. Many of these stories found their way into the world media, but it is difficult not to admit that each maintenance assignment, every routine check, ski and engine change was unique. If parts or tools were not available at remote locations-they were manufactured.
The weather also proved an operational problem for the squadron. It was difficult to predict the Antarctic moods, aircraft, except the Otters and Helicopters, where equipped to handle icing, but little could be done against fog, ice crystals, blizzards, blowing snowstorms and the infamous "whiteouts. At times it was necessary to fly out just to evaluate the weather conditions. No accidents and very few mission failures by Vx-6 were due weather.
When the IGY program was first conceived, "Deep Freeze IV" was to mark the termination of the program, instead of closing all the bases and returning all the support personnel to the United States, the Antarctic program was continued, and Operation Deep Freeze consolidated. VX-6 Squadron continued to provide air support with 25 aircraft of seven types and assisted by the USAF'sC-124C from the 52 Troop Carrier Squadron, together with four USS Icebreakers, each providing two helicopters.
The first detachment departed Quonset Point on September 7 lead by Captain Slagle. Enroute to New Zealand one of VX-6's R4D-8's BuNo 17188 piloted by Cdr Kimberling lost an engine midway between Honolulu and Canton Island, for almost six hours the aircraft staggered on only feet above the water.
When Epperly finally touched down on the island, all its fuel tanks indicating empty, after an engine was flown out and fitted, the Super Dakota proceeded to its destination at Christchurch.
Two new engines were fitted; the second engine had burnt out a few minutes before landing. The engines along with a new radio and radar equipment and clothing, all of which had been jettisoned to reduce weight during the one -engine flight to Canton, were flown in form the States. #17188 arrived at Christchurch, eight weeks leaving NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island. After a stop at Nelson with an oil leak., the aircraft flew onto Christchurch. Of four R4D-8's operating in the season three had eight engine replacements between them.
Also in the fleet was R4D-8 BuNo 99853 under the command of "Buz Dryfoose, [the only R4D-8 going through the season free of engine malfunctions.] Included in his crew was pet German Shepherd "Utz", who soon became most popular with the crew. "Utz" spent the season on the ice with his master, on the return to the States, the R4D-8 was loaded aboard the USS Ticonderoga-"Utz's" kennel was # 99853, despite heavy weather, he suffered no ill effect. Dyfoose flew the R4D-8 back to the Antarctic the following season-different crew- but no dog.
During the season, five aircraft were lost, killing eight men. The first accident was a P2V-7N - a modified patrol bomber BuNo 140434, during an acceptance flight in California, the aircraft was destroyed. On October 15 1958, an USAF C-124C SN 52 1017 from the 52nd Troop Carrier Squadron, departed from Christchurch for McMurdo Field.
Aboard the giant transporter were a crew of nine, four passengers, general cargo along with mail and provisions to be air dropped at Hallett Station enroute to McMurdo.C-124C "The City of Christchurch" formally named by the then Mayor of Christchurch, Mr. R M Macfarland in November 1956,crashed into a mountain near Cape Roget. When the aircraft failed to reach McMurdo a major search was organized. A second C-124C had received a mayday message, while on it's way to Antarctica and was able to relay to Search and Rescue at McMurdo the approximate location of the downed aircraft and reporting six dead and seven survivors.
P2V-7N Neptune had failed to locate the crashed aircraft during the initial search, so an Otter and helicopter were dispatched from McMurdo to Hallett Station, along with two weasels from Hallett to the crash location. Navy investigation had blamed a navigation error caused by poor and inaccurate maps plus the reception of false radar returns.
The eight-ton transport broke into three on impact; surveyors made the wrecked tail section their temporary home for the next 25 hours. Petrol from the shattered tanks froze as it flowed down the tail section. The crew had no warning of the crash
On another occasion, LCRD Epperly in his R4D-8 was diverted to Hallett Station because of severe weather, stationed his aircraft at the end of the runway to 'talk' the crews of three USAF C-124's down. The Globemasters had less then an hour's fuel remaining in their tanks. Hallett Station is located in a boxed canyon surrounded by 15,000-foot mountain range.
During the 1958 season a US Navy, an Otter BuNo 147574 [Royal Airforce XL210] used by the British Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition with Sir Bunny Fuch and New Zealander Sir Edmond Hillary, to McMurdo. After the expedition was completed in February 1958, RAF's Squadron Leader Lewis and Flight Lt. Gordon Heslip flew it from Shackleton Station across Antarctica over the South Pole to McMurdo
Two other UC-1 Otters were lost, the first BuNo 142427 was struck from the Squadron roster, on October 22 while supporting a party of scientists on the Ross Sea cracked its fuselage while taxiing. The second Otter BuNo 144673 crashed after take-off from the Marble Point dirt runway, the UC-1 made a steep turn towards a glacier on it's return to Williams Field, the wing hitting a small knoll and the aircraft cartwheeled and crashed, killing the two man crew.
On February 12 1959 a Sikorsky HRS-3 helicopter BuNo 144257, assigned to USS "Glacier, as part of the Detachment 69,Helicopter Utility Squadron Two. Crashed. Lt. Comdr. Russell was only a few minutes into a test flight, after an engine change, when the engine failed and the 'copter crashed landed on the rough ice some 2,000 yards from the "Glacier" smashing the blades on impact. Due to the crash site's inaccessibility, it was not recovered.
In "Deep Freeze 60"- the designation of the USAP's annual expedition was changed from Roman to Arabic numerals, this was to reflect the current fiscal year. With VX-6 deploying 21 aircraft, the USAF's 9th Troop Carrier Squadron employed ten C-124. While the 61st Troop Carrier Squadron out of Stewart AFB, brought seven ski-equipped and one wheeled C-130 Hercules. The introduction of the USAF's "Project Iceflow" added a new dimension, a revolution in Antarctic logistics.
Under the command of Col. Wilbert "Will" Tank. The 'bug' flights continued into `1961,and the 61th provided C-130 [really a "B' model on skis], Naval commanders saw the arrival of the Lockheed aircraft would eventually change the course of aviation in Antarctica. The giant versatile ski- equipped LC-130 designed for polar operations would take over from the 'Old Faithful" R4D's which were about to have their 'last rites" read.
Two aircraft, both R4D's crashed during the season. the first a R4D-5 BuNo 17163 on September 15 , while making a landing on the ice at Cape Hallett ,the starboard landing gear collapsed, and the aircraft declared a strike , as not economical to repair due to its age. While on Christmas Eve a R4D-8 BuNo 17154 crashed while attempting a landing at Byrd Station during a 'whiteout'- no injuries, but again the Douglas aircraft was destroyed.
On November 25 1960, a US Marine Corp R4D-8 BuNu 17219 JD/9 [ the Squadron's fleet side numbers was changed to JD-Jig Dog], named "Semper Shafters" from Byrd Station, while flying over rugged Antarctic terrain landing on rough snow surface in the Horlick Mountains, suffered serious landing gear damage. After temporarily repairs carried out on to her undercarriage-was patched up sufficiently to limp back to McMurdo Air Facilities On her return flight, she was overtaken by another 'Gooney Bird " R4D-5 BuNu 17246 XD/8 named "Little Horrible-Korora II" who escorted her home.
The R4D-8 was loaded aboard a Navy ship and sent home. With the commencement of "Deep Freeze 61" the Task Force 43 Command placed emphasis on improving station's living conditions, operational safety, communications and weather forecasting, 1960-61 was the first field season conducted under the Antarctic Treaty. Again providing the bulk of aviation support with 21 aircraft and assisted by the USAF's 9th Troop Carrier Squadron, with 10 C-124C's and 2 C-54's.
On October 31, a Lockheed WV-2 BuNo 126513- Lockheed No 4467- a specially configured Super Constellation previously used in Project Magnet. Flew in from Christchurch, NZ. The 'Connie" landed hard about 100 yards short of the Williams Field ice runway, bounced in the air and landed again 50 yards short of the runway, its landing gear collapsed as it veered into a snowbank, tearing off one wing and breaking the fuselage behind the wing. Only one of the 23 men aboard was seriously injured. At the time of the crash the plane's commander was occupied with the landing gear, while his co-pilot was at the controls
The Lockheed WV-2 was not a VX-6 Squadron aircraft, its mission and why it was in the Antarctic is still a mystery. Even those on the ice at the time 'were kept in the dark' as to it's appearance. The only comment was that the 'cold war' still existed and the Russians had a base at Vostok near the Geomagnetic Pole and Sovietskaya near the Pole of Inaccessibility. Rumored to have been a covert operation.
"Project Magnet" was a world magnetic survey with the co-operative effort by various nations, was completed in 1965.The C-121 was virtually a flying magnetic observatory. Of the three flights planned flights planned across the Antarctic continent, the first over the South Magnetic Pole to Hobart was carried out at the time of the crash on the first leg of the second journey over the same pole to Perth and back to Christchurch. The third was to have been a journey of 2841 miles from McMurdo Sound over the South Geographic Pole to Punta Arenas.
Within a two year period from 1958-60 the US Navy; lost seven Lockheed WV-2 Super Constellations -
The only other VX-6 Squadron's C-121 to crash in the Antarctic, was during "Deep-Freeze 70". BuNo 131644 JD/1 -[ Lockheed Serial No4145 ] "Pegasus" was destroyed while landing at Williams Field on the first day of the summer season. With 68 aboard including a crew of 12, it was the seventh aircraft to depart Christchurch for the Antarctic that season. Some half-hour before arriving, the weather suddenly deteriorated to zero visibility in a blinding snowstorm.
With no other alternative airfield, and the aircraft low on fuel, the pilot made several low-level radar controlled approaches, all unsuccessful. On the last attempt, and with almost no fuel left, he landed, veered off to the right of the runway -the C-121 was seriously damaged, without any injuries. Rear Admiral D.F Welch told this writer at the time, that as it crashed too close to the runway, it's not good morale to have the C-121 with only one wing lying about
Another of the C-121J- BuNo 131624 JD/6 [the sides change to JD -Jig Dog from the original XD ] and named "Phoenix" was flown back to Davis-Monthan AFB in 1968 after 13 years accident free years service with VXE-6.The Supper Connie was retired on March 16 1971
A Sikorsky HRS-3 BuNo 139162 crashed while flying off the Eights Coast on February 15 1961.Assigned to Detachment 12 on board the USS Staten Island [AGB-5] the helicopter's engine caught fire and exploded. Two crew were injured; the HRS-3 was declared a strike, as it crashed in a heavy crevasse area and adverse weather. 1960 marked a milestone for the squadron, VX-6 personnel received their LC-130BL Hercules from Lockheed, which arrived at their base at Quonset Point on August 1, and planned to commence operational missions that season.
Pressed into immediate Antarctic service, a C-130 BuNo 14821 was the first plane to land at the South Pole on October 28, carrying RADM David Tyree, the Commander of Deep Freeze, the crew delivered mail and other items for the men who had wintered over there.
Towards the end of the "Deep Freeze 61", the commander of VX-6, recommended the R4D-8 model be phased out of Antarctic service and replaced by the dependable R4D-5's. Notwithstanding the R4D-8's advantage over the R4D-5's and 6's of their greater range, the introduction of four Lockheed C-130's for long hauls, the advantage swung back to the earlier models. Use for their radius of action in excess of 600 miles had virtually ceased to exist. Three in general logistic operations and one as a 'test bed"
The first Hercules to arrive were the ski-equipped LC-130F/R models-. The Navy, the LC-130 were based on the C-130H, but powered by 4,910-esph T56-A-16 turboprops, these were the second ski-equipped sub-type to be operated by the Navy in the Antarctic. Five aircraft were delivered in November 1968, BuNo's XD 155917[ Lockheed No 4305] 159129/XD05 , 159130 /XD 04  and 148318/XD 00 .
VX-6 R4D-8 pilot "Buz" Dryfoode was sent to Seward AFB,Tennessee where he became the first Navy pilot qualified in the C-130 Hercules, assigned to BuNo 148318. . In a joint Lockheed/USAF/Navy test program into which 1500 strain gauges had been placed during it's construction. These strain gauges would record on seven stations inside the aircraft on a computer-like -panels to measure strains on the C-130 and could be read later. The plane operated with a composite crew in " Deep Freeze 61 " including Lockheed's test pilot Henry Dees and Navy and USAF personnel. At the end of the tour approximately three miles of graph paper documenting all that occurred on the aircraft.
The first to enter Antarctic duty BuNo XD 155917 was totally destroyed in a crash at the South Pole in 1973. After the Navy took delivery of the BuNo XD 155917, the remaining five on order from Lockheed were funded by the National Science Foundation, while all five were flown by the US Navy.
The following Hercules carried Lockheed production numbers 45519 /XD07  148320/XD06 , 14831 /XD03  and 148331. The LC-130's quickly became the "workhorse" of USAP, with twice the cargo capacity of the previously aircraft. Apart from their normal tasks in Antarctica-transportation, photographic mapping, the VX-6 "Hercs" was the Principle Search and Rescue asset on the continent.
During the 1961 season, three C-130's completed the longest flights in Antarctic history, when they flew 2,730 miles roundtrip from McMurdo to Ellsworth Highland without refueling. This flight was bettered on February 22 1963, by a C-130 VX-6 Squadron crew flying from McMurdo to the South Pole and down to Greenwick Meridian, onto a point where the peaks of Princess Martha Coast were visible without incident.
April 9 1961 a VX-6 crew flew out of Quonset Point Rhode Island on a 26,000-mile emergency flight to McMurdo and onto Byrd Station to evacuate a Russian scientist. This mid winter flight was a test flight for the Squadron, for their most dangerous mission three years later, when in complete darkness in June 1964, history would repeat itself. A VXE-6 C-130 returned to McMurdo to evacuate a seriously injured US Navy serviceman back to Christchurch. This flight was to herald in regular mid winter 'Fly ins" for both the VXE-6 and the RNZAF 40th Squadron.
VXE-6 Squadron provided 22 aircraft for "Deep Freeze 62', supplemented with nine C-124C's and two SC-54 Rescuremaster from the USAF's 9th Troop Carrier Squadron. Two of the Squadron's aircraft were lost during the season in which a new Byrd Station was established and communications improved by the introduction of a single side band high frequently radio and the PM-3A nuclear power plant completed at McMurdo Station.
On November 9 a Lockheed P2V-7P Neptune BuNo 140439, a former patrol bomber, modified with two jet engines and a metal bomb bay fuel tank, crashed at Wilkes Station. It had just arrived from Mirny Station and was taking off from the skiway, when it caught fire and crashed. Five of the nine men aboard were killed. The subsequent investigation reported that the Neptune was subject to stress and exceeding the design limits of the aircraft during take-off from a very 'rough' runway.
Three days later a VX-6's R4D-8L BuNo 17219 was declared unsalvageable, after it crashed while landing in the Sentinel Mountains.
Despite temperatures of 32 degrees below, the squadron's maintenance crew carried out tasks, considered almost impossible. On one occasion in a 40-mile gale they changed an engine of HUS-1B in 12 hours.
Williams Air Facilities at McMurdo, was constructed out on the Ross Sea by Navy's Seebees in 1956 and named after Driver Third Class Richard T Willams, who tragically lost his life during it's construction. On Friday January 6 1956, the "Wyandot" was unloading one of the monster D-8 tractors, weighting over thirty tons onto the bay ice. Williams climbed into the cab to drive it along the tractor trail to the air facilities. He had just crossed over a bridge spanning a large crack in the ice, when the D-8 crashed through, with the cab doors opened at the time. Williams was unable to extricate himself, the tractor carried him to the bottom of McMurdo Sound, a depth of over six hundred feet - his ice tomb.
Known by all the "Strip Rats" and VXE-6 aircrews at "Willy Field"- the air control crews proudly became known as "SNATCH"- Southernmost Naval Air Traffic Control Headquarters. Located some 16 km from McMurdo Base, it continued to operate until mid February, and was closed until the new season began in October. In 1993, as a means to provide for an extended use of larger aircraft, such as the Lockheed C-141 and C-5A cargo transport, a new blue ice runway was constructed closer to McMurdo Station.
Named "Pegasus", after a Lockheed C-121 Supper Concellation, BuNo 126513 which had crashed on the sea ice runway, the wreckage was dragged to where it now rested just off to the west of the blue ice runway. It still sits on the Ross Ice Shelf; the aircraft was previously with Pan American World Airways, before being acquired by the US Navy. The Pegasus runway was carved out of hard glacial ice 30 meters thick, is 1830 meters long and 91 meters wide and 6km closer to the McMurdo then Williams Air Facilities. Between November and December when the airstrip is not in use, its surface is covered with several centimeters of snow to protect the ice from melting.
Providing permanent and reliable airfields in Antarctica has always been a major problem for the military command, before the construction of the Blue Ice Runway, the only other runways regularly maintained for both ski-equipped and wheeled aircraft were located at Williams Field on the Ross Sea Ice Shelf. Built on floating ice, which regularly broke up and floated out into the Ross Sea. Hence both runways and the associated building had to be relocated.
The concept of the blue ice air facilities was to benefit the USAP in the long term, with the strip being able to handle large wheeled transport throughout the austral summer, thus freeing up the ski-equipped C-130 for intercontinental operations. Thus only one other R4D-8 remained over the winter at McMurdo Station, the other returned back to the states. The only remaining R4D-5 which arrived for "Deep Freeze II" in 1956 had been withdrawn from Antarctic operations, it had been stricken from the Navy inventory, apparently as it was considered not worth refitting.
In 1962, the US Department of Defense ordered all services to adopt a uniform system of aircraft designation of Navy aircraft in the Antarctic.R4D-5 to LC-47H - R4D-6 to LC-47J- R4D-8 to LC-117D-C-130BL to LC-130F - P2V-7N to LP-2J -R5D-3 to C-54Q - R7V-1P to C-121J - UC-1 to U-IB- HRS-3 to CH19E- HUS-1L to LH-34D - HUL-1 to UH-13P-HTL-7 to TH-13N and HU2K-1 to UH-2B.
As research expanded further and deeper into the Antarctic and further away from the main naval air facilities at McMurdo. The Task Force found it extremely difficult to provide the required support with the resources available, The command reported to the Chief of naval Operations with an emphatic request for more C-130's. Four of the Squadron's aircraft were lost during the season. Two LH-34D , BuNo 145719 crashed on landing in Wright Valley and BuNo 144658, its engines overheated on take-off and exploded and burnt, while a LC-117D BuNo 17188 when its ski landing gear collapsed landing at the Sentinel Range. A LC-47H BuNo 50777, while making a jet assisted take-off at Davis Glacier, a JATO Constar was released accidentally before it stopped firing hitting the aircraft's propeller- all aircraft were considered 'a strike" and not recovered.
Until the C-130 Hercules were added to VX-6's inventory and latter the USAF's larger Lockheed C-141 Starlifters and the grant C-5A Galaxy transport jets, the R4D's were the principal means of transport within the confines of Antarctica, during those early years. Their flexibility despite their limitations allowed the USAP to achieve a scope never considered possible in the area.
"Deep Freeze 64" saw only one aircraft lost, a CH-19E BuNo 144255. Crashed during a 'white out' four miles from McMurdo, both crewman were injured and the helicopter destroyed. The Squadron's supplied and supported the existing Antarctic Stations but their major task was the planned construction of the new Palmer Station on Anvers Island. The USAP budget cuts forced the retirement of the LP-2J Neptune's which had set back the station's construction. The USAF provided three C-130E from the 1608th Air Transport Wing, out of Charleston AFB, South Carolina.
The Squadron lost a further seven aircraft during "Deep-Freeze 65". A LH-34D BuNo 150220 was later recovered when a LC-47 tail wheel skis were placed under its landing gear and sailors from the USN "Staten Island" pulled the aircraft 13 miles to the ship, it was later repaired and returned to service .On October 22. LC-47H BuNo 12407 crashed when one of its JATO canisters was inadvertently fired while being jettisoned. Striking the left prop, the aircraft was a total loss A third LC-47J BuNo 50778 was on its rollout on the skiway, when one of its skis struck a large bit unobserved sastrugi, struck its propeller, tearing off the port engine and twisting its fuselage. The fourth accident occurred on January 12, when a UH-13P helicopter BuNo 143146 assigned to the USS "Staten Island's" detachment 43, Helicopter Utility Squadron One, was totally destroyed. It's main rotor blade struck the tail assembly and caught fire while attempting an emergency landing.
The first group of VXE-6 aviators to set foot of what is known as the Polar Plateau Station on December 19 1965. . A LC-130 BuNo148318 " The City of Christchurch", landed on what is the highest point in Antarctica. Capt. V D Bursik and the station's commander Lt.Gowan [Medical Corps] planted the American flag; the station is located on the rim of the earth's curvature.
During "Deep Freeze 66" [1965-66] the Task Force 43 constructed a new runway on the Ross Sea ice shelf at Williams Field and built the Plateau Station as well as the very high frequency longwire antenna substation in Marie Byrd Land. VX-6 deployed 21 aircraft and 3 C-130E's from, the USAF's 1501st Air Transport Wing and 8 helicopters from the four USN Icebreakers two squadron's.
Again the LC-47's heavy workload was taking its toll in the Antarctic operations. The squadron lost three aircraft during the 1965-66 season. On October 6 a LC-47H BuNo 17239 crashed on the Ross Sea Ice Shelf, while practicing open field landings. Two months later another LC-47's BuNo 17107 main mount collapsed while landing in the Horlick Mountains, which the investigation board reported the cause as material failure, the mount not being strong enough to withstand the pressure of the sastrugi in the landing area..
The third and most tragic involved LC-47J BuNo 50832. Together with a LC-117 BuNo 99853 flew out of McMurdo on a routine mission along the 60-mile tractor trail from Little America to Bryd Station to pick up a scientific party. The LC-117 BuNo 99853, under the command of Crd. Dennis Olson and Lt. Stan Jones landed safety in extremely limited visibility. However the crew of the #50832 weren't so luckily, the airplane stalled while about 200 feet above the ice surface.
The right wing dropped, Lt. Harold Morris, lost control, the aircraft hit the ice while almost inverted breaking the fuselage in two places. Before rescuers could reach the aircraft, it caught fire consequently igniting the eighteen JATO canisters aboard. Fire charred JATO bottles continued to explode for several hours after the accident. Except for the tail section, the R4D was destroyed.
All six crew aboard died on impact as no evidence could be found that they attempted to escape- more then six hours elapsed before the burning wreckage could be approached. Olson later told me that he and his crew could only watch helplessly as their friends and buddies ended their final mission in this lift"
Only a few months earlier Lt. Morris had been Olson's co-pilot on LC-47H BuNo 17017 "Deep Freeze Express" flying all the way from Quonset Point to the ice the previous November- an 80-hour flight. BuNo 17017 was lost on December 5. Another member of Olson's 4-man crew, Lt. Ken Buel was later killed on a mission during the Viet Nam war.Jones later made his first 'whiteout" landing at the same site.
Following these loses the Commanders of both the Task Force and VX-6 decided the LC-117/LC-47's had a limited life on the ice, and expanded the Lockheed LC-130 Hercules' role. Also that season the remaining UC-1 Otters were retired after their final flight on January 16 1966.
Task Force 43 commenced " Deep Freeze 67" [1966-67] with again VX-6 provided the majority of air power, their 15 aircraft in addition Army, navy and US Coast Guard's UH-1D Helicopters. However, aviation history was made when the USAF's Military Airlift Command, made one return flight from Christchurch with a Lockheed C-141 the first pure jet to operate in Antarctica. Thus providing to the Task Force with the feasibility of operating the C-141.jet transporter on a regular basis.
Since Operation Highjump, the US Coast Guard's icebreakers have assisted in opening up supply sea channels into McMurdo; however, it wasn't until a trail program in 1967 that their helicopter program and support detachment proved feasible. Their 'copters operating from the icebreakers had flown thousands of hours. Based at Mobile, Ala, the Polar Operations Division's officers and enlisted aviators flew Sikorsky HH-52A's.Each detachment deployed with an icebreaker consisted of two helicopters, four pilots and 12 enlisted personnel. These detachments were self-sufficient, while deploying to maintain and repair their aircraft-they were not dependent on VX-6. Rescue capabilities rested entirely with the individual icebreakers, as they operated from remote locations far from populated areas.
"Operation Deep Freeze 68" was the second accident free season for VX-6. Flying 14 aircraft of five different types and supplemented by the USAF. The Douglas C124C transports making their last appearance in the Antarctic. Assisted by C-130E. This year RNZAF's 40th Squadron provide a C-130H- NZ7001 the first "H" model off the Lockheed Marietta, Georgia's production line in the spring of 1965.Production number 4052,
During "Deep Freeze 68" only three R4D's were operational, after flying 86 hours in 25 mission, the Navy's command ordered BuNu 17092 JD/14 and BuNo 12441 JD/11 and 99853, to be dismantled in preparation for shipment to the US via New Zealand. As they were being loaded aboard the USN " Pvt. John R Towle"- disaster struck one of them. US Navy BuNo 99853 JD a veteran of ten years devoted Antarctic service, having first reached McMurdo on October 1 1957,slipped from her sling falling 25 feet to the quay and was badly damaged in the mishap.
The LC-117 was abandoned, but did not give up easily. Like the six original R4D left on the pack ice after "Operation Highjump' in 1947, BuNo 99853 was pushed out on the ice of the Ross Sea to drift away to sink peacefully in the frozen Antarctic water. However, she was still there a year later, still clearly visible from McMurdo station, before the icy waters swallowed her.
Two other LC-117D'S BuNo's 17092 and 12441 were struck off VX-6 's register and delivered to Davis-Monthan AFB for storage in the desert via USNS "Private R Towle". Davis-Monthan is the Navy's 'junk yard"
Looking back on the Antarctic role the "Gooney Bird" has played, the 1962 VX-6 Squadron Commander Greenwell, expressed himself eloquently. "The R4D has again proven herself a valuable friend and the "Grand Old Lady: of Antarctic Operations. She is economical and durable, and her versatility in short ranges, open field ski operations remains undisputed. It is not difficult to foresee the day, perhaps in the near future, when an equally, longer range, greater payload, higher-flying turboprop replaces the old warrior. But until that day comes, treat her kindly, keep her warm, push the right JASO buttons and navigate clear of all obstacles."
The C-130 Hercules could land whenever the Dakota could, however, at the end of the 1964 Antarctic season, VX-6's Commander Kelly gave an illustration of the perils of the Dakotas, painting a colorful picture of the LC-47/LC-117, he wrote. "Heavily loaded, forced to fly at maximum ceiling over extremely rugged mountainous terrain, fighting to stay clear of cloud-strouded peaks and whiteouts areas, the reliable, ancient Douglas aircraft carried out their missions and returned to McMurdo."
The contribution the "Gooney Bird's" has made to Antarctica are remembered in perpetuity on the continent's map locations. Such as "Dakota Pass", "Skytrain Ice Rise" and "R4D Nunatak" will be commemorated as long as men go to the Antarctic.-the contribution made by the venerable aircraft during the first decade of " Operation Deep Freeze"
Before the advent of the Hercules, the Antarctic's remote stations could only be established or serviced by dropping supplies by parachutes or by 'free dropping' - that is jettisoning fuel and supplies in specially prepared containers- in both cases valuable materials were often damaged or lost. The introduction of the C-130's equipped with auxiliary fuel tanks in the fuselage, allowed them to land in remote locations.
With " Deep-Freeze 69" was another accident free season -the third consecutive year for VXE-6. Highlighted by eight round trips by the USAF 438th Military Airlift wing's C-141 Starlifters and again with support from the RNZAF's C-130H's. It also marked the transfer of three US Army's UH-1D to the Squadron, as it was the Army's last season on the ice, after fourteen years in Antarctica. It also marks the exit of the squadron's last LC-47H, BuNo 17221 JD/14 which had been used in New Zealand since 1966, as an administration transport, it was retired in April 1969 and donated to the Ferrymead Historic Museum of Science and Technology in Christchurch, NZ. A new summer station, Siple, was established at Ellsworth Land. Updated fuel tanks constructed at McMurdo, resupplying and maintenance remain the squadron's prime logistic function.
The Squadron's accident free record ended on November 19 1969, when a LH-34D helicopter BuNo 150220 crashed, some 57 nautical miles west of McMurdo. The helicopter's engine failed, landing on the slope near Mt McLennam it slid down and caught fire. The LD-34D was destroyed. American scientist and New Zealand television cameramen Jeremy Sykes were killed.
For his act of bravery, Lt. Mabry, a Marine helicopter's co- pilot was awarded the Navy-Marine Medal for his action following the crash. The Citation from President Richard Nixon read in part…"realizing the remote possibility of being located by search and rescue forces Lt. Mabry, with complete disregard for his own personal safety and fully aware of the damage involved, unhesitatingly walked 12 miles in the Antarctic wasteland to summon aid and guide rescuers."
The Squadron spent much time devoted to crew training in Antarctic SAR techniques, including flying and navigating in, without doubt, the worst weather conditions and most hostile and hazardous terrain one would ever encounter.
1971-21 brought management changes to the Antarctic program, after the President Richard Nixon reaffirmed the US national interest in Antarctica directed the National Science Foundation to assume management and total budgetary control. With 15 aircraft, assisted by the USAF's C-141 and for the first time a Douglas C-133 Cargomaster, and the RNZAF's C130H's
Apart from the C-121J BuNo 131644 reported earlier, there were two other crashes during the season, a USGC's HH-52A [CG 1404] crashed and abandoned on the eastern slope of Mt. Erebus, the Squadron lost their first C-130F BuNo 148318. "City of Christchurch
The Hecules had just taken 7000gallons of fuel for the return trip to Christchurch, burst into flames, as it was taxiing around the GCA building. Its left ski went over a five and half foot snow bank; its right wing hit the ground and broke between the two starboard engines. The fire fed by fuel and high winds soon destroyed the C-130, crash crews were hampered by blizzard conditions at McMurdo. The Hercules had earlier developed minor technical problems and was heading back to Christchurch for repairs, when the accident occurred.
BuNo 14318 was also named "The Penguin Express", its commander in Antarctic LCr .Sid Wegert, who served with the "Puckered Penguins" from 1966 to 68 told me, "We had to be careful landing with skis because the nose ski in particular, was vulnerable to damage if stress on it was excessive. So, in both taking off and landing we kept it raised for as long as possible.
Commander Wegert made the flight to evacuate a sick Soviet exchange scientist in 1961- here his crew using the moon and man-made light.
The Squadron was again on the move in 1972, transferring from Quonset Point to NAS Point Mugu, after an eighteen-month stay at Rhode Island
The famous Bell Iroquois helicopter played an unparalleled part in Antarctica over many years both with the VXE-6 Squadron and the US Army. During 1972 , 22 UH-1 were deployed- BuNu's 158230-158291-158438-158452-158548-158762-158785 159`86-159209-159680-159703-159774 -159777-160165-160179-160438-160461-160460-160619-160624-160827 and 16083.
During its eight summers of operations, the US Army's UH-1B's flew some 3,000 miles, proving the versatility of the turbine helicopters in the harsh Antarctic environment. The UH model eventually replaced VXE-6's helicopters , leading to a phaseout of other models. Most of the unit's topographical, geodetic and geological missions were flown to remote campsites such as Ellsworth Mountains, Beardmore Glacier, Ellsworth land, Marie Byrd land and Ellsworth Mountains, all areas subject to some of the Antarctic's fiercest weather.
When the 1972-73 year commenced in October, the squadron's SEEBEES began construction of the geodesic dome to house the new Pole Station. "Deep Freeze 72" VXE-6 lost their second C -130F BuNo 148321 In landing in open ice field to supply a French traverse team participating in the International Glaciolical Project. After unloading, the C-130F made the usual JATO take off before returning to McMurdo 750 nautical miles away, however when the pilot had reached 50 feet, two of the bottles separated from the left hand side, striking the left inward engine and prop. Causing serious damage on impact with the ice, however, the abandoned aircraft was retrieved from its frozen resting-place in December 1986, repaired and returned to Antarctic service.
The 10 man crew onboard, while not injured, lived in survival shelters for 80 hours until the weather improved enough to allow a rescue aircraft to arrive
1972 marked the Marine Corps detachment's last mission, after almost 45 years involvement with Antarctic aviation. When VX-6 was commissioned in 1955, a small detachment of USMC aviators was assigned to the squadron. Among them was Captain Rayman A Hudman, who had formed a 12-man pararescue team in `1956. Hudman was listed on the Neptune's manifest as a 'passenger
'While Lt.Co. Kolp became the only Marine officer ever to serve as a VX-6's commanding Officer. Hudman was tragically killed when his P2V-2N BuNo 122465 crashed after the flight in from NZ on October 18 1956..The Marine's were the first to land in Antarctic, when Capt. Alton Parker jumped off the ship during Byrd's 1928 expedition, landing on the Bay of Whale's ice. Several Marines served with Byrd's expeditions.
Task Force 43's was reorganized prior to "Operation Deep Freeze 73" commencing, the Admiral Staff in Washington DC was eliminated, with the Antarctic Support Activities assuming the official title "US Naval Support Force, Antarctica".
Only one aircraft was lost, a C-130R BuNo Station. The aircraft's fuselage hit the skyway -its wings, engines, and landing gear and tail section disintegrated. The nine crewmen and two passengers aboard escape injury, but the aircraft was destroyed. The Squadron ended the year with the lowest aircraft inventory since 1955.Two of its helicopters remained at the squadron's home port, Naval Sir Station, Quonset Point, Rhode Island.
The Squadron ended its first twenty years in Antarctica with its first accident free season since 1969. However, what was perhaps more significant was the salvaging of an UH-1N BuNo 158235 Sikorsky helicopter which had blown over on its side at Cape Crozier in November. The Navy salvaging team then traversed the same hazardous path over which Cheery-Gerard went in 1911, which at the time prompted his work "The Worst Journey in the World"
On October 12 1973 the squadron took delivery from Lockheed at their Marietta plant in Georgia of three LC-130R's ,BuNo 159129,159130 and 159131. The aircraft owned by the National Science Foundation [NSF].
Just before the season finish a C-130R BuNo 148319 made a forced landing after a JATO bottle exploded on January 15 1974.
A day later another C-130F BuNo 159129 joined the its sister ship when its nose ski collapsed while taking off with the aircrew and passengers from first stranded aircraft BuNo 148319 on the polar plateau, 600 miles from McMurdo. Both aircraft remained there until salvaged in 1979.
Chief Petty Officer in Charge [CPOIC] Speak was in charge of the salvage operations of BuNo's 159129, 148319 and another C-130F BuNo 148320 which had suffered a similar mishap in 1975, but not badly damaged. His team encountered conditions almost unbearable at an isolated placed called 'Dome Charlie" where all three C-120F's had crashed.
Says Speak, "It was very difficult carrying out the recovery of the three 'herks". Working on the aircraft at an altitude greater then 11,000 feet in an open area was the daily norm for us. The cold, the winds, the high altitudes, the reduced oxygen, the cold soaked aircraft all combine for tiring days. Because of these conditions we could only work 20/30 minutes at a time."
As each Hercules was repaired, inspected and re-inspected-they were flown back to McMurdo, no photographs could be taken due to the cameras freezing.
The South Pole is at 9,300 feet above sea level, combined with the minus 55 degrees [Celsius] created numerous landing gear and ski system difficulties, two of the LC-130 engines oil coolers struck in bypass causing oil temperature problems normal for Antarctic.
VXE-6 crews located the crash site of the Air New Zealand DC-10 Series 30, ZK-NZP Flight TE 901, which had flown into the slopes of Antarctica's only active volcano on November 28 1979, instantly killing the 257 passengers including 24 Air New Zealand crew and staff on board. It was New Zealand's worst air disaster. Air New Zealand took delivery of ZK-NZP on December 14 1974,its first DC-10 McDonnell Douglas production number 46910.
Attempts by families of the operating crew to place liability on the US Navy's radar operations at William Air Facilities was rejected by the US District Court of Columbia, Washington during an internal inquiry and a New Zealand Royal Commission.
The USAF landed the C-5 Galaxy aircraft on the blue ice runway in 1989, this was the first aircraft of its class ever to have landed in Antarctica, and the largest to ever land on the sea-ice runway. Weighing some 870.000 pounds, the C-5A became a regular transport to McMurdo, together with the C-141, having taken over from the early the US Coast Guards, Naval shipping and the valuable Douglas C-124 Globemasters.
The high winged C-5A, long ranged jet -powered freighter with five times the capacity of the C-141A, and has a payload in excess of 260.000 pounds. It's ability to operate from semi-prepared ice runways together with its straight through loading and unloading of vehicle and cargo, made the aircraft ideal for Antarctic operations.
However, C-5A operation at McMurdo had not been without risk. Due to the aircraft's weight leaving heavy 'footprints" on the ice, necessitated the sea ice ramps to be constantly monitored for cracks. The aircraft must be repositioned while unloading. However the only limitation of the grant Lockheed aircraft in Antarctica is the cold. The C-5A utilizes extensive hydraulic systems to raise and lower the fore and aft cargo doors and ramps as well as the aircraft's kneeling landing gear. The challenging Antarctic temperatures at McMurdo can often degrade this function.
History was made on October 25 1991, when for the first time, an all female crew operated from the frozen Antarctic continent. Commanded by Lt. Rhanda Buckner, the ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules few from McMurdo to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station. The mission "opened up" the Polar Science Station for the "Deep Freeze 91" season.
Aviators of VXE-6 lived with death and danger with every flight in Antarctica-the "Puckered Penguins" of VX-6, have carved a place in aviation history-their Motto " Tradition, Courage, Sacrifice, Devotion". The early years on the ice, were filled with excitement, adventure, achievement and death.
Scattered around the Antarctica, the remains of crashed aircraft are a symbol of the extreme dangers of polar aviation twenty-seven crashes in the first twenty years.
During the Navy's last season on the Ice 1998/99 the squadron operated 5 C-130's BuNo 148321-XD.-03 ,#159130-XD-04 ,#1591291-XD-05 #48320 XD-06 and #148319 XD-07and 9 Sikorsky HH-1N Helicopters BuNo 158283/XD-10, #158234/XD-11, #158235/XD12,#158288/XD-14, #158238/XD-15,# 158272/XD-16, #158249/XD-17 and #158255/XD-18
Says Lt. Col. Richard Saburrro, New York Air National Guard, now commander of Operation Deep Freeze, Christchurch Detachment 13, in paying tribute to the role the US Navy's has played in Antarctica.
"They blazed the trails, they were the true pioneers of Antarctica, opening up the continent to exploration to today's more routine logistic operations- if one could describe Antarctic flying as routine. They reminds me of the American westward movement, covered wagons with trails` turning into dirt roads to paved highways with gas stations and fast-food outlets" he said.
The ANG 109th Airlift Wing operates C-130F, owned by the [NSF] assisted by the USAF with the Air Military Wing's Lockheed C-5A's and C-141 Starlifters, flying from Travis and McCord AFB's.
The ANG lost their first C 130 late in 1998, when the aircraft's [tail number 10295] portside ski-equipped undercarriage lodged down a 38 metre deep crevasse on the West Antarctic ice sheet, whilst preparing to take off from a remote science field camp .The Guard's first mishap. Completing a reconnaissance flight, one of its landing skis sank in deep snow as it taxied for take-off from the "Upstream D" a glaciology research site, 130 km south-west of Siple Dome, and a 1000 km from McMurdo, the $NZ100 million Hercules one of five operated by the ANG. After partly filling the crevasse with snow, engineers used airbags and a special harness developed by Air New Zealand's Engineers. to pull the C-130 free. Once free engineers working in sub zero conditions replaced number four engines and two props, before being flown back to ANZ workshops in Christchurch.It was placed back into service four weeks later.
VXE-6 was decommissioned at reunion ceremonies on March 27 at the Squadron's home station, Point Mugu Naval Air Station in Oxnard, Calif., while the last four C-130 Ski-equipped Hercules will be flown on to the US Defense's ''Junk Yard" -Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona in the Nevada desert. The Squadron's personnel will receive new naval postings.
After landing at he South Pole on October 31 1956, BuNo 12418 was withdrawn from Antarctic operations in December 1958. Painted with a special paint to preserve to the aircraft's skin for salt air, loaded aboard the USNS "Wyanoot" [AKA-92]-charged in 1969 to AK 283] the US was presented to the Washington's Smithsonian Institution National Air & Space Museum in December 1958. Que Sera Sera" was later loan to the United States Navy Museum at Pensacola in late 1974. After restoration for exhibition in 1982 is now on display to the public.
"Que Sera Sera" Douglas manufacturer's number 9358, built at the Long Beach plant, delivered on 29 July 1942, was one of a batch of eighty-two R4D-5's ordered by the United States Army Air Force, were transferred to the US Navy in July 1952 and assigned BuNos 12405-12446 and 39057-39095. They were supplemented by 157 C-47A-DK's which received BuNos 17092-17248,the surviving R4D-5s were redesigned C-47Hs in accordance with new Triservice system. Many R4D-5's were modified for special purposes and were redesigned.
#9358-later its US Navy serial number BuNu12418 was handed over the Navy on April 8 1943, after serving with a number of naval squadrons. Entering service with VR-7 Squadron on June 3 1945, transferred to Jacksonville in June 1946,NART, Minneapolis in Feb 1947,HART Olathe in Aug 1948,St Litchfield Sept 1948. Finishing up with VX-6 Squadron .in 1955.
Apart from "Que Sera Sera" which was given to the Naval Aviation Museum, only one Antarctic Dakota has been preserved and placed on public display. It is LC-47H built as 42-93410 but designated as BuNo 17221 JD/14 Production number 13319 was delivered from Douglas Oklahoma City Plaint to the US Naval Air Station located at San Diego in May 1944. One of 5381 C-47A C-47B-C117A R4D, military version, constructed at the plant, after serving with the Air Fleet Marine Force in the Pacific was transferred to various US military naval squadrons. On October 20 1963 after being converted to a transporter, initially as a LC-47H, was prepared for use with VX-6.
Carrying the tail-code "JD" and named " "Mutha Goose". Also known on the ice as "Kool Kiwi" it was later named "Yankee Tiki A Te Hau " after being flown to Christchurch at the end of the "Deep Freeze '65" for overhaul BuNo17221 never returned to the Antarctic. She was retained in the Squadron's complement and used exclusively in New Zealand for internal flight, as an administration transport, After being re-designated LC-47M was presented to the Ferrymead Museum of Science and industry at Christchurch on April 19 1968. Today, the "Gooney Bird" still bears the LC-47H designation.
The author wishes to thank all those who assisted in the preparation of this article, the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, Major Bullock, Air National Guard, VX-6 Squadron, a very special thanks to the many ex-VX-6ers, including LCDR James Waldron, CDR Eddie Ward, Eddie Frankiewicz, "Buz Dryfoose, Dennis Olson Harold Bulter, Kenneth Aldrich, Bob Nyden, Paul Kobar. Hill Goodspeed the Historical Librarian at the Emil Buehler Naval Aviation Library and the Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, Fla. CDR Ken Snyder USN[Ret} LCDR Michael Necnerman,VX-6 Operations ,Frank & Mike Hudman, and countless others.
As the Navy handed over the command to the USAF's ANG, one old VX-6er, Paul Panehal recalled to this writer." A fitting climax to the rear adventure-drama, which started forty-four years ago with VX-6 and a very courageous group of men who, went where few have dreamed of going before. Where everyday was a life and death situation, which we never really shared aloud. The reality of the job was first, foremost and situations were dealt with as they happened. Everyone was a professional and performed their jobs to the fullest. We never questioned the expertise of others; we just placed our lives on it."
"When I first started flying as aircrew, I didn't know that you were supposed to see the ground. I thought that's what these great Air Traffic Controllers were there for. That's why we spent so much money buying them beers. Many of us aircrewmen started out with the same feeling, including myself. Everyone had the capability and did their job. Everyone."
Paul Panehal was radio operator of BuNo 17221 JD/14 'Kool Kiwi", which the US Navy donated to the Ferrymead Historic Museum, Christchurch NZ. It was handed over to US Ambassador Henning as a momento of the close bond between the Squadron and the people of Christchurch
VXE-6 Squadron is not without its lighter side. The Squadron had it's official insignia, but "Puckered Pete" is also part of the unit's history. He is considered a chapter member, without rank, of the Puckered penguins, first appearing in "Deep Freeze I" in 1955.
He carries a beer in one hand and a bottle of Old Moe [ spirits ] in the other. His feathers are torn, frazzled and tattered.
Footprints appears on his tux reflects that he's been soundly trod on. His beak is covered with lipstick from his frequent visits to Chee Chee [Christchurch New Zealand]
Pete's eyes are bloodshot from all those whiteout landings while he smokes too many cigarettes trying to calm his nerves for another ' rickety rack to the pole and back" flight.
He allegedly represents the typical Antarctic aviator.
"Puckered Pete" disappeared from the Squadron, when
it was redesigned VXE-6 on January 1 1969.
Since VX-6's R4D's were all ancient aircraft with primitive characteristics for 1956, a song was composed dealing with the venerable old aircraft called "VX-6 Cannoball". Click here to see-hear music version..
"Now, listen all my shipmates, I'll tell a tale to you,
About some Navy pilots , and of the plane they flew,
They flew down to McMurdo, for Task Force 43,
They didn't fly and aircraft , they flew an R4D.
Strictly routine, strictly.
Going to the Pole in a flying machine
Listen to the rattle, the rumble and the roar,
As we go down the runway in a beat-up old R-4,
You can feel the airframe shaking,
See the polits trembling hand.
If we don’t get airborne, we'll see the Promised Land.
Strictly routine, strictly.
Going to the Pole in a flying machine
A buckling and a slipping, down the ice we go,
Everyone lean forward, cause Christ!, We're going slow,
Throttle through the firewall.15 JATO's blasting free,
I've 18 tons strapped to my back in this beat up R4D,
I'm sitting in the cockpit, I can't retract the gear,
I'm running out of airspeed,this is the end, I fear,
So listen, all my loved ones, please say a prayer for me.
For I'm attached to VX-6 and a lousy R4D.
Creaking down the runway, what do my poor eyes see?,
A hundred correspondents- and the gawdamned NBC,
They've heard about this aircraft,
And they expect the worst,
They'd feel bad, if I crashed in flames.
But, they want to get in first.