Virtual Tour - Skiway

Since there is no land here for planes with wheels to land, planes that come here must be equipped with skis so that they can land on the ice.

From 1955 until 1999, the Navy [Antarctic Development Squadron Six (VXE-6)] flew various aircraft in support of the U.S. Antarctic Program, including LC-130 aircraft. In 1998 at the Navy's request, the Air Force/Air National Guard took-over command of the DoD support to the USAP (Operation Deep Freeze) from the Navy. VXE-6 continued to augment the Air National Guard with LC-130 flights until it was disestablished in March 1999. The New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing, which had augmented VXE-6 since 1988, became the sole USAP provider of LC-130 aircraft support, beginning with the 1999/2000 field season. Most of the pictures you see on the Virtual Tour date from before 1998, so most of the aircraft pictured are Navy; for more recent photos, see our page on the NYANG.

Here's a close-up of the skis on the LC130 while we were still in New Zealand.

No planes fly into the South Pole during the austral winter, from about 15 February to about 25 October. The people who live here in the winter are totally isolated except for radio and electronic communications. There are many flights in and out of Pole in the summer, between October and February. During the South Pole Modernization, many more flights than usual for a normal summer season will be scheduled to bring in construction materials.

The United States Antarctic Program (USAP) uses Hercules (LC-130) aircraft in airlift operations, but other specially equipped planes can land here too; this is an example of a ski-equipped plane that is not an LC-130.

It is so cold here that pilots don't turn off the plane's engines, even in the summer, because there is a very real concern that the engines, once stopped, won't start again. They keep the engines running while cargo is offloaded and onloaded, then they take off again.

Planes on the skiway. Photos courtesy Robert Schwarz.

A plane being unloaded. It takes normally 45 to 60 minutes to unload and load the planes, get extra fuel, etc. Photo courtesy Robert Schwarz.

A view out the back of the plane from inside.

Here is a sign next to the skiway. Yes, that's Elvis. Elvis is Everywhere.

The skiway is really the only physical contact the Pole has with the outside world, so it's understandably important that it be in good repair. It actually takes quite a bit of care to maintain it, especially after the winter when it doesn't get used.

Go back to the map of the pole.