By Christine Dell’Amore
Christine Dell’Amore is participating in a National Science Foundation media trip to report on scientists conducting polar research near McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
I never thought I’d dig military planes. But here I am, in my second cockpit in the space of two days, chatting up the pilot about the age of the LC-130 he’s flying to the South Pole (younger than my 30 years, but not by much).
The LC-130 is equipped with skis, each of which cost $1 million
You really can’t help but be impressed by these Hercules, as they’re called. There are only around ten in existence, and there’s no other plane on Earth that can do what they do–transport huge amounts of cargo to the most desolate of polar reaches. LC-130s are the “backbone” of the U.S. Antarctic Program and the sole reason that Amundsen-Scott South Pole station is able to function, Tom Ellis, director of operations for Raytheon Polar Services–the U.S. Antarctic Program’s contractor–told me.
Every single bit of equipment and manpower for the $279-million dollar IceCube observatory just completed in December was flown in by LC-130. The U.S. originally built the planes in the 1950s during the Cold War to go head to head with the Soviets in the Arctic, according to the U.S. Antarctic commander. Now they fly missions for the National Science Foundation, jetting around the Antarctic in the summer and the Arctic in the winter.
Tomorrow we’re taking a helicopter ride with scientists to the Dry Valleys, an ecological research site that’s also Antarctica’s largest region without ice. And, I’m excited to report, there will be penguins.