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RAAF C-17A completes Antarctic cargo air drop

written by australianaviation.com.au | September 21, 2017

A Royal Australian Air Force C-17A parachutes supplies for Australia's Davis Research Station on Antarctica. (Australian Antarctic Division/Barry Becker)
A Royal Australian Air Force C-17A parachutes supplies for Australia’s Davis Research Station on Antarctica. (Australian Antarctic Division/Barry Becker)

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has conducted an air-to-air refuelling over the sub-Antarctic region for the first time to deliver about 10,500kg of cargo to researchers at Australia’s Davis Research Station.

A RAAF C-17A Globemaster III conducted the air drop on Wednesday, taking off from Melbourne Avalon Airport carrying fresh food such as carrots, lemons and potatoes, as well as medical supplies and mail, to †he team of 17 that has spent the past six months at the station.

Halfway through the journey to Antarctica, it was refuelled by a KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport while flying over the Southern Ocean, as Flight Lieutenant Justin McFadden explained on the Australian Antarctic Division website.

“We refuelled about three hours into the flight at an altitude of 22,000 feet and a speed of 500 kilometres per hour,” said FLTLT McFadden, who captained the C-17A.

“This allowed us to continue the remaining four hours to Davis for the airdrop and return to Hobart.


“Nearing the drop zone, we descended to 5,000 feet and slowed to about 270 kilometres per hour, before deploying 15 pallets of cargo in padded containers, each weighing about 700kg.”

The Australian Antarctic Division published a video of the air drop on its YouTube channel.

The Australian Antarctic Division said the mid-air refuelling capability would allow airdrop supplies to be made year-round if required to all of its Antarctic Research Stations and deep into the interior of Antarctica.

“It’s hoped, in the future, this capability will allow us to pre-position equipment and supplies for station and science projects before the shipping season starts, so it’s all ready to go when the first summer expeditioners arrive,” Australian Antarctic Division future concepts manager Matt Filipowski said.

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Comments (21)

  • Arkair


    Was an actual landing considered as weather conditions shown in photos looks surprisingly good?

  • Tomo


    This is just plain and simple ” COOL”

  • Bill


    Reminds me of the time when the USAF did the Mid Winter Flights to Antarctica, from
    Christchurch International with the Starlifters ,

    C-17 an fabulous airplane

  • Patrickk


    Ark air I am not sure there is a suitable graded ice runway there.

  • Dave N


    What a totally awesome capability this is truly a game breaker.Projecting an airdrop capability so far from Australia utilising two terrific aircraft is a tribute to the RAAF and the army air dispatches well done to all involved.

  • Paul


    The RAAF just keeps getting better and better. Well done.

  • Brendan


    Needing to refuel after only 3 hours. That doesn’t seem that good???
    That wouldn’t make Syd to Fiji.

  • Paulie


    It seems to be a usual occurrence in any air drop news article that the Army Air Dispatches and Parachute Riggers don’t get mentioned. It’s these Soldiers from 176 Air Dispatch Squadron at RAAF Base Richmond that rig these loads to be dropped! So well done to all involved!

  • Philip


    I would read the refuel after 3hours as a ‘top-up’ as there would be no further refuelling (or reasonable landing facilities) out to the David Research Station if there were complications, and to ensure they were within range of KC-30As out of Australia on the return. I’m sure the ‘burn’ on take-0ff, full laden, would be a noticeable % of the fuel capacity.

    (so kind of the last fuel station for a couple of thousand km …)

  • Mick181


    The Aircraft would not have needed refueling after 3 hours especially with only a 10t load. Refueling could have been done for a number of reasons.
    Safety flying over the most hostile conditions on Earth with very few Airstrips of any type would mean that maintaining a high fuel load would be mandatory.
    Training for both crews under very unique conditions,
    Proving a new capability.

  • PAUL


    Awesome shot of the C17 going overhead….

  • Dan


    Just waiting for some clown to comment that we need another 20 odd C17’s now and another 30 refuelers. Seems to be a running theme from some.

  • Mick


    Less than 1/6 of the possible payload. A very expensive delivery. Made for some nice pictures though.

  • John N


    Dan, you shouldn’t have said that, your only going to encourage them!!!!!

  • Philip


    Mick – I would suggest that it is more a proof of concept with the RAAF teaming up with the Antarctic Stations instead of just a photo opportunity. Gives everyone confidence in the ability to deliver to this often hostile environment.

  • John N


    Hi Raymond,

    The previous AA article you linked, is exactly what Dan and I were both referring to.

    The old “lets buy more”, “lets buy a dozen, wait, lets by two or three dozen more!”, “lets buy more of something that is not in production or available anymore”, and on it goes too!!

    Realistically, Air Mobility Group (AMG), formerly, Air Lift Group (ALG), has done pretty well with the replacement of old airframes and also procurement of airframes with ‘significantly’ more capability than the airframes that were replaced.

    Going back to around the year 2000, Air Lift Group (as it was then), had 24 x C-130H/J, 14 x DHC-4 Caribou (nominal strength), 4 x B707 tanker/transports, plus the five VIP airframes too.

    Today Air Mobility Group, has 8 x C-17A (arguably with 2 or 3 times the capability/capacity of the C-130H), 12 x C130J, 6 x KC-30A (soon to be 7 and eventually 9), 10 (eventually) x C-27J, 8 x King Air 350, plus the five VIP airframes too.

    As has been demonstrated, the 8 C-17A has significantly more capability that the 12 C130H that were replaced, and equally the replacement of the 4 aging B707 tanker/transports with the 6 (soon to be 7 and eventually 9) KC-30A is also a significant increase in capability and availability per airframe.

    AMG has done well, very very well with the capabilities it operates today, yes people want more, but I still think AMG is sitting in a very strong position today and in to the future too.


    John N

  • Paul


    Thank God I don’t drink red cordial!!!!!

  • Graeme


    5,000′ seems pretty high for a drop of this type from my experience (ex RAAF transport aircrew). From the video I would say more like 1,000′ to 2,000′.

  • ESLowe


    It rousing that the RAAF has the sort these aircraft, these days, to conduct such operations independently and at will. I remember as a boy watching James Stewart in the “Strategic Air Command” (1955), in awe, as Globe Master II transports loaded semi-trailer petrol tankers, and complete B 47 bomber jet engines and thinking that that was something we would never be able to do.

    The people at the base are eating the most expensive carrots grown in Australia LOL.

  • G-man


    Brendan… You said…

    “Needing to refuel after only 3 hours. That doesn’t seem that good???
    That wouldn’t make Syd to Fiji.”

    Because as the article said… 4 more hours to Antarctica, presumably 6-7hrs back. Total 11 more hrs flying after the tanking. Plus fuel for manoeuvring.

    Better to top up to the flight plan fuel needed for the rest of the trip at the beginning, so there is still time to RTB with fullish tanks if there is a problem… rather relying on the tanker being there at the end when you are empty… Only to find something has gone wrong, it can’t make it, and you are buggered.

    Don’t want to leave yourself with no options. The fuel isn’t yours till it is in your tanks. And there should always be fuel in your tanks to make it to somewhere.

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