This four-engine turboprop transport airplane is the backbone of U.S. transportation within Antarctica, and it also provides much of the air service between McMurdo Station and New Zealand. The LC-130 is the polar version of the familiar C-130 cargo plane; its major unique feature is the ski-equipped landing gear, which enables operation on snow or ice surfaces throughout Antarctica. The plane also has wheels for landings on prepared hard surfaces. It was introduced to the antarctic program in 1960; the National Science Foundation's fleet numbers seven, operated by the U.S. Navy. Four additional LC-130s, owned and operated by the Air National Guard, also are used in the U.S. Antarctic Program. These two groups are the only LC-130s in the world.
The plane has a cargo area of 12 by 3 by 3 meters. It can, as an example, carry 12,200 kilograms of people and/or cargo from McMurdo to South Pole (728 nautical miles), then return to McMurdo without refueling. Or, it can deliver 10,400 kilograms from McMurdo to Siple (1,280 nautical miles), fly back empty to Byrd (484 miles) for fuel, then return to McMurdo. It cruises at 275 knots. Wingspan is 40 meters; length overall, 30 meters.
When required, deHavilland Twin Otter turboprop airplanes are chartered for operations in Antarctica. Skis are fitted, and the planes can land on open snow and ice. The payload and range of a Twin Otter are less than those of the LC-130, but greater than those of the UH-1N helicopter.
Six UH-1N twin-turbine helicopters are operated out of McMurdo Station during the austral summer. With an operating weight of 3,200 kilograms, the UH-1N can carry a payload of 730 kilograms or up to five passengers over an operating radius of 185 kilometers. Using an external cargo sling, it can carry 1,400 kilograms. Cruising air speed is 100 knots.
Other types of helicopters are chartered in some summers, sometimes in conjunction with the activities of other Antarctic Treaty nations.
The Air Mobility Command, U.S. Air Force, charters to the U.S. Antarctic Program a number of C-141 and C-5 round-trips between Christchurch, New Zealand, and McMurdo Station each austral summer from late September to early November. These large, four-engine jets move the bulk of the program's passengers and priority cargo during this period.
In mid-June a C-141, supported by a KC-10 tanker providing midair refueling, airdrops fresh food and high priority cargo to McMurdo and South Pole during the long winter isolation.
The C-141 can transport some 25,000 kilograms from Christchurch to McMurdo; the C-5, three times that amount. The C-5 is America's largest airplane.
Polar Duke, built in 1983, is a 67-meter ice strengthened research ship under charter to the Foundation since January 1985. It operates in the Antarctic Peninsula area and near southern South America throughout the year. The ship has a crew of 14 and can accommodate 23 scientific personnel. Polar Duke cruises at 12 knots, has an endurance of 90 days, and is well equipped with laboratories, winches, a piston corer, single channel seismic gear, and other equipment for biology, geology, and geophysics.
Edison Chouest Offshore Inc., Galliano, Louisiana, in 1992 built and delivered a 94-meter research vessel with icebreaking capability for use by the U.S. Antarctic Program for 10 years or more. The ship is a first-rate platform for global change studies, including biological, oceanographic, geological, and geophysical components. It can operate safely year-round in antarctic waters that often are stormy or covered with sea ice. It accommodates 37 scientists, has a crew of 22, and is capable of 75-day missions. The ship is named the Nathaniel B. Palmer to commemorate the American credited with first seeing Antarctica. Nathaniel Brown Palmer, then 21 years old, commanded the 14-meter sloop Hero, which on 16 and 17 November 1820 entered Orleans Strait and came very close to the Antarctic Peninsula at about 63 degrees 45'S. Later in his life, Palmer also won wealth and fame as a pioneer clipper ship master and designer.
As required and available, research ships of the U.S. academic fleet have worked in ice-free antarctic waters. These visitors have included Melville, Knorr, and Alpha Helix. Research projects generally are in the disciplines of physical oceanography, marine biology, and marine geology and geophysics. In addition, the deep sea drilling ships Glomar Challenger and Joides Resolution have taken research cores from antarctic waters.
A Polar-class, America's most powerful icebreaker, operates annually in the Antarctic. Either the Polar Star or the Polar Sea deploys to Antarctica each year to break a channel through McMurdo Sound and perform other logistics tasks. Glacier, an icebreaker built in 1955, served in Antarctica almost every year until it was decommissioned in 1987. The older Wind-class icebreakers served in Antarctica until the 1979-1980 season.
A Polar-class icebreaker is 122 meters long and displaces 13,400 metric tons. Its diesel engines provide 13,400 kilowatts for normal operations. When required for icebreaking, gas turbines can be operated to increase the power to nearly 45,000 kilowatts. In open water the ship cruises at 13 knots; maximum speed is 17 knots. The ship carries two helicopters. Crew size is 154; the ship can accommodate 20 scientists.
Each year this ice-strengthened tanker or one of its sister ships delivers approximately 20,000,000 liters of JP-A fuel (for furnaces and for diesel and aircraft engines) and gasoline to McMurdo Station. It is operated under contract to the Military Sealift Command.
Annual visits by this or a similar ice-strengthened container ship deliver most of the cargo used at McMurdo and inland stations, and it takes U.S. Antarctic Program waste to the USA for recycling or proper disposal. It is operated under contract to the Military Sealift Command.
These 3- to 5-meter inflatable rubber open boats (e.g., Zodiacs) are used at Palmer Station and with Polar Duke to support research operations. They are powered by outboard motors.
A variety of vehicles is used for transport and hauling. These include four-wheel-drive pickup trucks with oversize tires, all- wheel-drive dump trucks and flatbeds, tracked vehicles, articulated vehicles with wide, low-pressure tires, and motor toboggans (snowmobiles). The familiar Caterpillar tractor is found in Antarctica--sometimes with low ground pressure wide tracks for improved operation on snow. Snowblowers and graders are used to clear snow from roads.