"Winfly" Heralds Beginning of Antarctic Research Season
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Beginning August 20, five flights of a U.S. Air Force C-141 Starlifter aircraft will bring personnel and supplies from Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo Station in Antarctica, ending six months of isolation for the research station. The winter fly-in, or "Winfly," sets the stage each year for the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) austral summer research season. The USAP is managed by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF).
The flights will bring in 217 people and more than 100,000 pounds of cargo, including supplies, mail, and fresh fruits and vegetables to McMurdo station.
"The population of the station will double very quickly," said Dave Bresnahan, systems manager for operation and logistics in the NSF's Office of Polar Programs. "Winfly allows scientists, for whom early observations are important, to get a head start on the research season. It also brings in support staff to prepare the infrastructure for the influx of people who will arrive in late September and early October."
"Main Body" flights that mark the start of the research season will begin this year on Tuesday, Sept. 29. The summer population at McMurdo will reach about 1,000 scientists and support staff until the end of the season in February when only about 150 people will remain to spend the long, dark winter. Over the winter, atmospheric and weather observations are gathered while upgrades and maintenance work are carried out.
This year's Winfly scientists include some who will study ozone and seals, as well as provide science support to prepare for the Cape Roberts Project. This effort includes researchers from the United States, New Zealand, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Australia to establish a drill rig on the sea ice and extract sediment cores from the sea floor. The cores will span a period of 25-70 million years ago to establish the paleoclimate record.
Winfly flights are scheduled two days apart from August 20-28, leaving Christchurch at 5 a.m. and arriving at McMurdo at about 10:30 a.m. In the long twilight and brief daylight, crews will spend several hours offloading equipment in frigid temperatures (near -40 degrees F) before the aircraft heads north again.
The C-141 Starlifters are huge, four-engine jets with up to 11 crewmembers and the ability to carry up to 150 passengers. They are operated by the U.S. Air Force's 62nd Airlift Wing headquartered at McChord Air Force Base in Seattle, Washington.
The planes will land on Pegasus Runway, a blue-ice runway on the Ross Ice Shelf that partially covers the Ross Sea. Since no flights have used the runway since February, McMurdo-based crews have been busy preparing and testing the runway. They have removed snow and, to ensure the runway is strong enough to hold the weight of a loaded airplane, dragged a "proof cart" over it to simulate the landing pressure of a fully loaded C-141 Starlifter. The steel cart is loaded with concrete blocks weighing 384,000 pounds, and rolls on eight actual C-141 tires.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.
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