VIDEO: New York Air Guard Unit is Lifeline for Scientists in Greenland and Antarctica

Airmen from the 109th Airlift Wing support scientists in harsh environments.

August 03, 2015, 9:12 PM

— -- Every year, a group of airmen from the New York Air National Guard embark on a unique mission to support science.

Since the mid-1970’s the 109th Airlift Wing has supported scientists logistically from around the world and brought them to remote locations in Greenland and Antarctica to conduct climate change research.

All of this is possible with a very special aircraft, the Lockheed LC-130, the largest ski-equipped cargo plane in the world, which can land in snow and ice.

Lt. Col Steve Yandik, a pilot and member of the unit for 25 years, said his group is the lifeline for scientists to conduct their research, bringing fuel, supplies and the scientists themselves to remote areas.

“The 109th's mission is different in the fact that we're not being shot," he said. "We’re not in combat but the enemies we are facing here are Mother Nature, weather and extreme cold temperatures."

The mission of the unit, based in Scotia, NY, is to support researchers from the National Science Foundation, an independent, federally-funded organization, in its projects in Greenland and the Antarctic.

In the Antarctic, researchers focus on astrophysics, biology, climate change, marine science and glaciology. In Greenland, researchers are looking at carbon emissions present in glacial ice.

Almost all the areas where the National Science Foundation conducts research are somewhat difficult to access.

In many cases the work could not be carried out without the air support provided by the ski-equipped planes the 109th flies, said Peter West from the National Science Foundation.

The unit can travel between 600 to 1,000 hours during a typical season in Greenland and can transport up to 2.5 million pounds of cargo that are essential to conduct the research.

“I like the challenge of flying on the snow," Yandik said. "I like the fact that actually there's some good coming out of it.”

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