The LC-130’s and the Flying Squadron

The LC-130’s and the Flying Squadron

Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of visiting Lt. Col. Sal (William) Salvaggio, with the 139th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron of the Air National Guard.  Based in Schenectady, New York, this unit is part of the 109th Airlift Wing.  Sal has been on active duty in the Air Force for a total of 17 years, and National Guard duty  for 15 years total.  He also flies for American Airlines, but is currently on a furlough.  Sal is both a navigator and a pilot.


The National Guard unit in New York is the only unit with navigators.  Sal uses both grid and celestial navigation as part of his work.  Grid navigation uses latitude and longitude as references.


Sal has been coming to Antarctica since 2006; this is his 7th season.  He told me that one of his favorite things is that they are the only navigators on the planet that use celestial and grid navigation.  I was also fascinated by this gadget Sal called a E6B Whiz Wheel…a tool that is like a calculator in a way. It can calculate without batteries!  You dial the miles and speed and it will tell you approximately how long it takes to get from one place to another.


Currently we have about 100 Air Guard military personnel at McMurdo Station.  There are roughly 50 on the operations side (pilots, navigators, loadmasters) and 50 mechanics here on station and working at the Pegasus runway at the moment (they worked at the sea ice runway earlier in the season).

We have about 12-14 pilots here at any given time.  This unit rotates personnel every 60 days or so.  The unit flies in Greenland during the summer months (April-August) to supply air support for scientists studying in the Arctic.  They can also practice more in Greenland than they can here in Antarctica.  Here is the LC-130 Hercules aircraft.

Herc on snow closer-2009

You can see the skis on the aircraft and it also uses wheels to land on prepared hard surfaces.  Sal told me that the wheels and skis can move both together and independently.

The Air National Guard supports our science projects in the field and South Pole station.  The LC-130 the polar version of the C-130 cargo plane.  It is a ski-equipped Hercules aircraft that has the capability to land on snow or ice surfaces throughout Antarctica (and in the Arctic).  It can land in remote areas to “put in” (drop off) field camp personnel, equipment, and supplies.  It can also transport fuel from McMurdo to remote locations.  The United States is the only operator of the ski-equipped Hercules aircraft in the world.

The LC-130 four-engine turboprop transport plane is the backbone of transportation in support of science and logistics within the Antarctic continent.  They support a wide range of scientific research projects, WISSARD being one of them this season.

Herc take off2009

The LC-130 burns about 5,000 pounds of fuel per hour.  It can fly at about 270 knots (nautical miles) per hour. It will take about 2 1/2 hours for the Hercules to reach the WISSARD deep field camp near Lake Whillans.  Each flight consists of the following military personnel:  a pilot and co-pilot, the navigator, a flight engineer, and two loadmasters.  If you recall from my blog post of my flight here on the C-17, the loadmasters take care of on/off-loading the cargo and with all things concerning the cargo area throughout the flight.  Here are some photos showing cargo areas and off-loading large equipment.

The empty cargo hold…(a friend pointed out that this is a Basler airplane..smaller than a LC-130)

cargo hold empty2011

Unloading cargo…

Herc cargo unload2009cargo unload2007

cargo unload2-2007

Cargo pallets2009

The LC-130 Hercules is manufactured by Lockheed Aeronautical System Corporation.  It has four turboprop engines, and its operating weight is 90,000 pounds.  The maximum weight is 155,000 pounds.  The maximum payload (cargo) is 45,000 pounds.  The plane is 97 feet, 9 inches long and its wingspan is 132 feet and 7 inches.  It can fly in the range of 356 miles with a maximum payload.  Its cargo hold can carry a maximum of six pallets and depending on what cargo is being transported, the Hercules can carry a maximum number of 60 passengers.

The nose (front) ski is 10 feet by 5 feet and is 6 inches wide.  The main skis are 12 feet by 5 feet and are also 6 inches wide.  This is a cool plane…as you can see by the photos below.

Herc in the air2009

Herc with props moving2007


I think one of the coolest things is that this plane uses something called ATO (assisted take off) when taking off on a shorter runway in the field.  These photos show the ATO system located on each side of the plane.  The power of these 4 ATO packs on each side can provide the thrust of one additional engine.  The nose ski lifts off the snow first, and just as it does the ATO is deployed. It’s the timing between the nose ski getting off the snow and the pilot using the ATO (also known as JATO … jet assisted take off). I sure hope I get to see this in action from our deep field site at Lake Whillans.  I’ve always wanted to see that!


Here is Sal next to the ATO devices.

Sal with ATO close up

Here are a couple of photos taken from the air….these are amazing sites when  seen from an aerial perspective.


glacier from window2007

I’ll leave you with a few final shots of this LC-130 in action.  What a great job the Air National Guard (and other military personnel who fly the C-17’s) does here in Antarctica.  They have provided much needed support for science for many years.  I thank Sal and the rest of the men and women in our military for the jobs they do every day.  No matter where they are or what they do, I salute them and want them to know that their work, commitment, and sacrifice is appreciated.

angular Herc shot2011

US_LC130_Hercules_aircraftPenguin2011on approach2007

propeller zipping20072AGAP_camp2009

109th Airlift Wing commemorates first South Pole landing

And one final shot that is awesome!!!


9 responses to “The LC-130’s and the Flying Squadron

  1. Amazing post Betty. I do love the explanation of the ATO device. I suspect that Lt Col Salvaggio has some relative that came from a country that I know very well…;-))

    • Yes Matteo…I think you are right about Sal’s relatives! Who knows, maybe they came from the Rovereto area! 🙂 I hope I get to see ATO used at the WISSARD site. That would be awesome! Miss you down here…it’s not the same without you!

  2. Thanks for the great post Betty! Two comments, first I find it ironic that all the great and well known explorers like Drake, Magellan, and Cook used celestial navagation to pinpoint their location on the globe. Now Sal uses this tried and true method to know his location in support of TODAY’S explorers in the Antarctic! How amazing that link!
    Secondly, I and every other licensed pilot has learned the use of an E6B as part of their training to be proficient as a pilot. Again, “old technology” but tried and true. The device is really an adapted circular slide rule. The advent of hand held electronic calculators has eliminated the younger generations familiarity with slide rules, a pity. The E6B is really one of the last common uses of this technology.
    I will be happy to give you a lesson when you get home. It will have to occur at over 3,000 feet AGL (above groung level). Thanks again for the great post and tanks to Sal as well.

  3. Sorry for the delay in commenting on the post, but there were a couple of things that I found interesting in reading this post. The first is me just echoing what Pops said with regards to the navigation. Its amazing that one can navigate in an area where Lat/Long and MGRS (Military Grid Reference System) is unreliable due to the location in which they are operating. I wonder how much the weather affects their navigation. If it’s cloudy, can they fly (navigate), or do they have to resort back to their E6B for time, distance, heading?
    Secondly, after reading this post, it confirms to me why I would never want to be a C-130 pilot. I will conceed that it would be awesome to visit and see some of the neat places that they can go, but for every cool place, I KNOW there are three or four horrible ones. I’ve seen those guys land on dirt roads and gravel in places that I didn’t want to be, let alone for an Air Force guy. 🙂 Plus, any time you have to strap explosives onto the side of your aircraft to ensure you can takeoff safely makes me think that one would have to reconsider their career choice. All in all, it’s an amazing post about an operation that blends todays technology with the tried and true methods of yesterday to accomplish amazing things in an unhospitable environment. My hat goes off to those fine pilots and crewmembers.

    • You and Chris know far more about the topic of flying than I ever will…I knew you two would post comments on the blogs about planes and aviation in general. Hats off to all U.S. military personnel around the world, and especially the ones who will be flying WISSARD’s into the deep field camp here in Antarctica! They’ll have a big job to do in January and February. 🙂

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