A RAAF C-17 Globemaster has delivered over 12 tonnes of cargo including a Hägglunds tracked vehicle to Wilkins Aerodrome, Antarctica, in support of the Australian Antarctic program.
Saturday’s flight from Hobart was the second in a series of proof of concept flights to Wilkins – which serves the nearby Australian Antarctic base of Casey Station – being operated between early November through to February to validate the use of the C-17 to support Australian Antarctic Division operations.
“The C-17A is the largest aircraft to have flown to Wilkins Aerodrome in Antarctica, and it offers an unprecedented cargo capability that complements the Division’s existing transport options,” Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, said in a statement.
As well as the dual-cab Hägglunds vechicle the 36 Squadron C-17 (A41-208) also delivered two quad bikes and building materials.
Then, “Whilst on the ground at Wilkins, the Royal Australian Air Force conducted a simulated aeromedical evacuation that could provide further options for the Royal Australian Air Force and the Australian Antarctic Division to work together in the future,” Minister for Defence Materiel, Mal Brough, said.
The C-17 has a 70+ tonne payload, “However, to get in on the ice at Wilkins all the way from Hobart we carry about 20 tonnes of equipment and people,” Commander Air Lift Group AIRCDRE Richard Lennon, who was on Saturday’s flight, told the ABC.
“That enables us to return to Hobart without refuelling.”
Then, while on the ground, the RAAF conducted a simulated aeromedical evacuation.
The proof of concept flights aim to validate the feasibility of using the C-17 to operate to Antarctica, supplementing the existing Skytraders-operated Airbus A319 airlink and the Aurora Australis supply ship. (The US Air Force already operates C-17s between Christchurch, New Zealand and Pegasus Field near McMurdo Station under Operation Deep Freeze.)
“The Air Force has worked closely with Australian Antarctic Division on this concept, with a heavy-aviation capability identified as an important capability in the 20 Year Australian Antarctic Strategic Plan report, commissioned by Government in 2013,” Minister Brough said.
“Following the proof of concept flights, a full review will be undertaken by the Australian Antarctic Division and the Air Force. There are no future commitments past these initial flights,” the Australian Antarctic Division notes.
The flights are the first time the RAAF has flown missions to the Australian Antarctic Territory since 1963.
A Department of Defence video detailing the flights can be found here.