First midwinter airdrop to an Australian Antarctic station

Pallets of cargo being deployed out the back of a C17A aircraft over Antarctica.
The cargo was deployed from the C-17A at 3500 ft. The aircraft slowed to a speed of 145 kts (270 km/h) to conduct the drop. (Photo: ęChad Griffiths/RAAF)
Three padded containers of cargo parachuting through the cloud above the Casey plateau.Cargo attached to a parachute safely on the ground in Antarctica.

Medical supplies, mail and tractor parts formed part of the very first midwinter airdrop of supplies to an Australian Antarctic station in June.

In complete darkness and with temperatures below -30°C, a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) C-17A Globemaster III dropped 1500 kg of cargo for the Australian Antarctic Division onto the Casey plateau.

The Antarctic Division’s Future Concepts Manager, Matt Filipowski, said that until now, access to Australia’s Antarctic stations has been limited to the summer months between October and March.

“We can’t reach our stations by sea or air in winter, due the darkness, sea ice and extreme temperatures,” Mr Filipowski said.

“But this capability test with the RAAF C-17A has shown we can now drop essential supplies and equipment year round.”

RAAF Flight Lieutenant Doug Susans said the aircraft routinely undertook airdrops across the globe, but this was the first time in winter in a polar region.

“We undertook training in the simulators before the mission to make sure we were familiar with the locations, timings and observations,” he said.

This is phase two of a trial using the RAAF planes in Antarctica. Last season the C-17A made six successful trips to Australia’s Wilkins Aerodrome to provide heavy-lift cargo for the Australian Antarctic Program (Australian Antarctic Magazine 30: 24-25, 2016). 

Nisha Harris
Australian Antarctic Division