Boarding U.S. Airforce C-17 Globemaster III
Finally the fax arrived that weather conditions in Antarctica had improved dramatically, and our flight was scheduled for noon on October 10. On that day, we hurried to the CDC, donned our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) clothing, exchanged our departure cards for boarding passes, went through intense security screening, and boarded the U.S. Airforce Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, an awesome aircraft.
The C-17 can take up to 170,900 pounds of cargo, and when I walked into the plane, I felt like I had been swallowed by a whale. All the internal organs of the plane were visible: pipes, wires, insulation, valves, cargo clips, hoses, and electrical outlets. People were dwarfed by this enormous internal structure and the immense amount of Antarctic cargo it was carrying. We appeared to look like Big Red plankton swimming inside the rib cage of some gigantic animal.
Under "Operation Deep Freeze", the U.S. military provides peaceful support for the missions of the U.S. Antarctic Program. The C-17 was designed for rapid airlift of troops and cargo, and what that meant for us is that we would arrive in Antarctica, weather permitting, within five hours instead of the usual seven hours by Hercules C-130 aircraft. But, for us, it would a few hours longer as the crew had to adjust the brakes in one of the engines, as you can see in the postcard, allowing us a rare opportunity to check out a marvel of mechanical engineering. All the while we kept wondering if the weather would turn bad again in Antarctica.
Operation Deep Freeze
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Postcards from the Field: Polar Fossil Mysteries