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RAAF operates C-17 proof of concept flights to Antarctica

written by australianaviation.com.au | November 22, 2015

antarctic crop
A pallet of building materials is unloaded from the C-17. (AAD/Glenn Jacobson)

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.

A Hägglunds snow vehicle is driven off a C-17A Globemaster at Wilkins Aerodrome.
The brand-new Hägglunds vehicle is driven off the C-17. (Defence)

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.

A No 3 Aero-Medical Evacuation Squadron team tend to a simulated patient during a training mission to Antarctica on board a C-17A Globemaster.
3 Aero-Medical Evacuation Squadron personnel tend to a simulated patient on board the C-17.

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.

A No 36 Squadron C-17A Globemaster sits at Wilkins Aerodrome in Antarctica.
The C-17 is the largest aircraft to operate into Wilkins Aerodrome. (Defence)


Comments (13)

  • Mick181


    Yet again proves that the C-17 buy is perhaps the best ADF procurement decision made by an Australian government in a long time. Just a pity it took a war for it to happen. I’m quite sure the RAAF was eyeing them off from the time they 1st entered service with the USAF, just needed a justification for the extra cost.

  • Jeff Atkinson


    Was only a natural progression really.US Starlifters have been down there for yonks.Good for Australian supply.Especially from Hobart.Now to put ski:s on .Maybe ?

  • Daryl


    Do the US use c-17’s down there now.The C-141’s have all been parked for a long time now.

  • Jason


    It wasn’t the war that prompted the C-17 acquisition, it was our lack of ability to respond swiftly to events such as the Bali bombings and the Indian Ocean tsunami.

  • ngatimozart


    The USAF have been flying C17s down to the Ice for years and prior to that C141s and possibly the odd C5 but am unsure of that. I do know that the C5s used to come into Christchurch during the summer season because I saw them. Apparently you can’t retrofit skis onto the C17s because they have to be fitted when the aircraft is built. That is why there is a limited number of LC130s operated by the USAF. It is a highly expensive undertaking and honestly not justifiable given the number of times that the aircraft would be utilised for that specific mission. At the moment the US National Science Foundation, USAF and RNZAF are trialling winter flights to Pegasus Field at McMurdo using C17s and C130H(NZ)s.

  • Mick181


    Australia at the time was using civilian air transport company’s and USAF(when we could get it it) to support 1500 ADF personnel in Iraq & Afhganistan in 2006. The C-130s where not up to this kind of tasking. This is the publicly given reason for the purchase of the C-17s. The RAAF used a c-130 to bring home the Bali wounded. This why Australia could order ac in march and have them delivered in dec 2006.
    Yes the RAAF would have used HADR to help sell the C-17 buy to the government, but the primary reason was to support operations in the Middle East
    The RAAF would already have had C-17s in 2003-04 if we had forward looking governments.

  • Peter B


    From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_C-130_Hercules_in_Australian_service: “…in March 2015 Australian Aviation reported that, as part of the process of developing a new Defence White Paper, the Australian Government was considering purchasing two LC-130J Hercules fitted with landing skis and other equipment needed to allow the aircraft to operate in Antarctica. If acquired, these aircraft would be used to support the Australian Antarctic Division’s operations following the closure of the Wilkins Runway near Casey Station…” – does anyone know if this is still under consideration?

  • Murray Howlett


    If the C17 was capable of aerial refuelling presumably it could more closely use its 70 tonne capacity if it used the RAAF A330 tankers on the way?

  • Gary



    The C17 is capable of aerial refuelling; however, it has not been cleared to refuel from the KC30 as yet.

  • Mick181


    A RAAF C-17 was carrying out refueling trials with a USAF KC135 some months back. Don’t know if the C-17 has done any trials yet with KC-30s but the RAAF will eventually get around to it I’m sure. Like all such capabilities the capability must be trialed under strict flight conditions first before it can be done operationally.
    Cant see the RAAF wanting to send a C-17 to Antarctica without enough fuel on board to get home again. The thought of an aircraft being stuck on the ice in the middle of a blizzard for a week is not a pleasant one, good way to lose a C-17 and we only have 8.to start with.
    I suspect the turn around time will be short.

  • ButFli


    Refueling would occur on the outbound leg. That way the C-17 can turn around and head back to Hobart if the refueling can not take place. There will never be a chance that it will get stuck in Antarctica due to lack of fuel because it will have enough fuel to get back to Hobart at all times.

  • Myles Dobinson


    I live in the region just outside Amberley and have witnessed KC30 and C17’s outbound in formation and then conducting trials of Moreton Bay.

  • Daryl


    Just heard from a friend in LA ,that the last of the white tails departed Long Beach on sunday.This aircraft purchased by Qatar air force.

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