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The C-17: Flying into the freeze of Antarctica


National Science Foundation

The C-17 is the main transport aircraft for supplies and passengers in and out of McMurdo Station in Antarctica. In 2011, C-17s conducted 72 flights to the glacial outpost.

Landing an airplane is the hardest part of flying an airplane. Now, up the landing ante by landing a plane that weighs more than 150,000 pounds on a short runway. Oh, and the runway? It’s made of ice. That’s the challenge U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III pilots face on a regular basis to supply McMurdo Station, a scientific research facility operated by the United States’ National Science Foundation.

If that’s not enough, in addition to their regular flights, sometimes C-17s need to fly special missions to McMurdo. One in June 2011 was particularly important: a medical evacuation from McMurdo. That mission earned the joint C-17 crew from the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., the 2012 Aviation Week Laureate Award for heroism.


McMurdo Station, Antarctica

National Science Foundation

McMurdo Station, Antarctica is an isolated outpost that has been operated by the National Science Foundation since 1955.