Here Skippers de-briefing of VX6 Air Ops.. BT UNCLAS... 7-99
I'm delighted that the air drop went well and a Bravo Zulu (well done) to the USAF crew and backups that carried it off. We all know that any midwinter flight over the continent of Antarctica carries with it some inherent hazards.
And we know that because we, former members of the Navy's Antarctic air squadron, have been there. I don't know of a single VX6/VXE6 member who would not have volunteered for whatever was required. That's the nature of those who pioneered aerial exploration and logistic support for scientific efforts on the White Continent (1954-1999) One only has to recall the early wheeled-aircraft missions that launched from New Zealand on one-way flights where there was a point of no return point and commitment had a very singular meaning. Several of our Navy/ Marine shipmates gave their lives in those days (and a number afterwards). The Navy's war-worn C-54s and "Superconnies" traveled determinedly to the Ice knowing that when they arrived, the very best they could hope for was a decent landing in a deep trench bulldozed out of the snow cover over the Ross Ice Shelf. The odds finally claimed the Connies, as I recall but it was a sight to see them come in for landing and just disappear into the trench for touchdown.
Enough could never be said about the valiant men who flew twin-engine R4Ds (C-47s and C-117s) from Quonset Point Rhode Island to McMurdo Station via a route that required them to navigate by the stars and cross first the vast Pacific and then the terribly cold seas between NZ and the Ice, in both cases with fuel loads that left no room for alternates. Their performance on the Ice, at elevations up to 12,000 feet or so, with JATO bottles blasting them into the air at weights that could only be estimated, was consistently superb. Their rewards, like that of all of us, was a "Well done" and a pride of accomplishment.
The helicopter crews battled their own set of Antarctic hazards, flying inland as well to supply field parties and explore. One has only to think of the peculiar circumstances a pilot must face, landing a chopper in a whiteout where the slightest side drift can cause catastrophe -- and there were plenty of those. Those crews met such challenges as routine -- but never lightly.
Finally, the mighty Hercules gave us the technology and flexibility to open the entire continent. But those early Herks could only fly one-way to the Ice and the dreaded point-of-no return caused each crew to seriously consider the circumstances of each trip as unique and demanding. That's the way we liked it.
Volumes could be written about Herk Ice adventures for that is what it was. Pushing the edge of the envelope, developing new techniques, beating the Star Trek people at "going where man has never gone before." Whiteout operations were never "routine" but were taken in stride as operational requirements. Maximum range was defined as "fly as far and as long as we can go." Takeoffs and landings on three engines or with main gear chained down was no excuse for aborting a mission when you were over a thousand miles away from the nearest facility.
And the cold. Something to be reckoned with, no real need to sweat until you found yourself in conditions below -65 degrees. Beyond that, it was ticklish, to be sure. Once, I found myself in -95 degrees and there was the possibility that the fuel would jell. So we burned camp oil from an internal 3600 gallon internal tank used to deliver the stuff in bulk. Often, Herk crews didn't even shut down during such deliveries from McMurdo to other main stations, just changed crews on the run.
With the addition of more modern Herks, VX/VXE-6 capabilities and performance improved but the hazards remained basically the same. Still, the younger men, and now women, continued on in the fine tradition of the original squadron. Navy/Marine airmen, as well as supporting ground and ship units (who could ever forget the stellar performance of the intrepid Seabees!), earned accolade after accolade. Augmented by Army and Air Force units in later days (representatives of all the services had been present from the beginning) , they set the pace and tone of Antarctic air operations.
Forty-five years of epic achievements. And before that, the lumbering Navy PBM WWII flying boats made the first modern incursions over the continent.
May the Navy men and women who served in Antarctic operations never be forgotten. And may those who follow return our salute.
M. E. Morris
Captain U.S. Navy (ret)
CO, VX-6, Commander Antarctic Air Group, DF 66
I was the A/C on the June, 1966, winter flyin and we were
proud to do
it as a routine mission.We had only one airplane available.
It had a
broken main gear and we received special permission for one ski
landing. Shucks, that's all we needed.
We didn't go to Pole Station but landed at McMurdo by the light of lit oil drums. No aircraft has landed at South Pole in mid-winter, the extreme low temp being the primary reason. All else could be routine for experienced VX-6/VXE-6 crews. Darkness is no problem with a good GCA unit or eyeball with any kind of visibility. Whiteouts were as bad if not worse and we had our share of those, even in the old C-47s.