New Way for Transporting Supplies to the Antarctic

Staff Sgt. Latisha Webb, 139th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron crew chief, taxis an LC-130 “Skibird” into the fuel pit on the Williams Field skiway at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, on Nov. 6, 2017. Both Webb and the LC-130 are deployed to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze from the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing in Scotia, New York. This is the 30th season the 109th AW is providing ODF support. ODF is the Department of Defense’s logistical support to the National Science Foundation’s U.S. Antarctic Program. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Catharine Schmidt)

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Transporting personnel and goods like food and equipment to the Antarctic or taking out samples from there are complex tasks. Using larger aircraft can help make these missions more efficient. One of the solutions is the blue ice runway.

A blue ice runway is a runway constructed in Antarctic areas with no net annual snow accumulation. Such runways simplify the transfer of materials to research stations, since wheeled aircraft can carry much heavier loads than ski-equipped aircraft.

There are eight “Blue ice” airports from different countries in the Antarctic, operated by the US Antarctic Program, the Norwegian Polar Institute, the Australian Antarctic Division and others.

China has recently discovered a huge blue ice area in the Antarctic suitable for the country’s first large permanent airport on the continent. The site can be used to operate China’s strategic transport aircraft Y-20, Airbus’ and Boeing’s long-range commercial planes without modifying their landing gears.

“Blue ice has good bearing capacity, impact resistance and stability,” Xinhua cited Sun Bo, the leader of the antarctic research expedition team.

According to defenseworld.net, another form of airstrip, the “Skiway,” requires an aircraft that is equipped with a sled landing gear to take off and land. Larger aircraft cannot use a skiway at all.

China now operates four research stations in the Antarctic, with a fifth under construction. However, no permanent airfield is available to China. The research teams previously used Russia’s Progress Skiway.