Guardsmen, ski-equipped planes begin annual migration to South Pole Published Oct. 19, 2016 By Master Sgt. Catharine Schmidt New York National Guard STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. (AFNS) -- Airmen and ski-equipped aircraft from the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing have started their annual journey to Antarctica.Two ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules and 23 Airmen left Stratton Air National Guard Base Oct. 18 to participate in the wing's 29th season supporting Operation Deep Freeze, the military component of the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation.The first LC-130 to leave Stratton ANGB departed Oct. 14 and is now in Christchurch, New Zealand – the last stop before Antarctica. Two more planes are scheduled to depart for Antarctica within the week.Throughout the season, which runs through February, a total of six LC-130s and 500 Airmen are expected to deploy, with between 300 and 350 missions planned. About 120 Airmen will be deployed on the ice at any one time.The unique capabilities of the ski-equipped LC-130, such as the ability to land on snow and ice, make it the only one of its kind in the U.S. military, said Col. Christian Sander, the 109th Operations Group commander.The primary mission of the 109th AW is to provide airlift within Antarctica, flying to various remote locations from McMurdo Station. Crews will transport scientists, support equipment, fuel, medical supplies and more throughout the season.Last season, the 109th AW supported Antarctic research efforts by flying an estimated 3,900 researchers and support staff and about 4 million pounds of cargo and 1.2 million pounds of fuel to research stations across Antarctica.Crews will also once again be flying missions in support of the Common Science Support Pod, outfitted with IcePod science equipment. IcePod, an imaging system that can measure the depth of an ice sheet, was flown for the first time in Antarctica in the 2014-2015 season and was deemed one of the biggest successes of that year.