SCOTIA – Six airmen from the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing, all residents of the Capital District, are being recognized by the Air Force Association for outstanding airmanship during a Jan. 19, 2015 mission into Antarctica.
The airmen will receive the Association’s Earl T. Ricks Award on Monday, Sept. 19, during the association’s 2016 Air Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
Being honored are the crew of Skier 92:
-Lt. Col. Stephen Yandik, pilot, from Hudson
-Major Justin Garren, co-pilot, from Gloversville
-Capt. Jefferson Wood, navigator, from Wynantskill
-Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Hubbley, flight engineer, from Scotia
-Tech. Sgt. Michael Wallace, loadmaster, from Mechanicville
-Staff Sgt. Logan Brennan, loadmaster from Broadalbin.
The six Airmen were flying an LC-130 “Skibird” the 2,400 miles from Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo Station, Antarctica — the main American base on the continent — when weather conditions began deteriorating.
The crew had already passed the point of safe return — which meant they did not have the fuel necessary to return to Christchurch — and weather conditions made landing at Williams Field, the main airstrip serving McMurdo and a New Zealand base, questionable.
The airmen were forced to land their aircraft in the “whiteout landing area” instead. The whiteout landing area consists of several square miles of the Ross Ice Shelf near McMurdo that’s been surveyed and found to be free of crevasses and also to be relatively smooth.
Airmen following a set of protocols can lower their plan onto the ground even if they cannot see the horizon.
According to the award citation, the crew of Skier 72 successfully landed the aircraft in zero-foot ceiling and zero miles visibility. The snow and the horizon were the same color, and there were no shadows causing the crew to be effectively blind looking outside the aircraft.
“We are extremely proud of these airmen and that they will be receiving this prestigious recognition,” said Lt. Col. Christian Sander, the commander of the 109th Operations Group. “They exhibited the most amazing compilation of teamwork, risk management, quick thinking, situational awareness, and airmanship in their heroic whiteout landing on open snow.”
The Air Force Association is a non-profit, independent, professional military and aerospace education association that promotes public understanding of air power and its role in national security.
The Earl T. Ricks Award, named for the first Air National Guard officer to head the National Guard Bureau, recognizes outstanding airmanship by Air National Guard aircrew and personnel.
The unique capabilities of the ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft make it the only one of its kind in the U.S. military, able to land on snow and ice.