A Perspective from the Bottom of the World

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Joshua Mead
  • 103rd Airlift Wing, Public Affairs
Senior Airman Lucas McEntire, an aircraft fuels systems mechanic with the 103rd Maintenance Squadron, volunteered for a short tour of duty with the 109th Airlift Wing out of Schenectady, New York, to the bottom of the world--Antarctica. The five-week trip afforded him the opportunity to perform his fuels duties, such as replacing fuel pumps, seals and fuel lines in one of the most environmentally-austere places on the planet. So, once he got back and was able to warm up, we sat him down and asked him a few questions about his unique experience.
What was the reason or inspiration for you volunteering to deploy to Antartica? 

"It would be a real good opportunity to see the farthest point south in the world and get some relationships going with other C-130 bases. There are not too many people I know that can say they have been to Antarctica and seen the South Pole. It was a very rare opportunity that I was grateful to have."

When you landed in Antartica, what was the first thing you thought of when you got off the plane? 

"It wasn't as cold as I thought it was going to be, really. It was like 20 degrees Fahrenheit when I landed--so, it was kind of like a winter here, but it was just so vast because the air is very dry so you can see really far across a field of white ending in a perfectly flat line with mountains on one side.

What kind of work did you do while you were down there and did the environement play a part as a limiting factor when getting that work done? 

"They day after we landed, we went down to the airfield where we actu-ally worked, which was about six miles, to the McMurdo Station out on the ice shelf. Which meant there was no land below us so we weren't able to ground our planes and that limited us in the work we could do; we couldn't do work directly inside the fuel tanks, we could only do work inside the dry bays with fuel lines and things like that."

"I ended up having to change out two fuel lines on one of the planes and a couple of seals on one of the others. It took a while because Antarctica is so remote we had to wait for a cargo plane to fly in the parts."

"It was also difficult because of the cold, and since we didn't have any intrinsically safe heaters, we couldn't use them once I opened up part of the fuel system to avoid risk of ignition. So, we had to build up a little 'shelter' out of jackets and other things like that inside the dry bay and heat up the area--then turn them off before working on the fuel sys-tems."

How did it feel to be the only fuels component mechanic on the continent? 

"It was cool and interesting that they would trust one person to take care of all of the fuels problems there, especially a senior Airman just getting started on the C-130. I was able to bring a lot of knowledge from our base and from working on the C-130s in Utah to come up with solutions to fix their planes."

What other unique challanges did the cold environement present? 

"They fly about two or three sorties a week to the South Pole to deliver supplies and drop off or pick up people at station down there and they basically put out a list and allow people to take incentive flights down there. So, I went down there and it was 9300 feet above sea level and minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of minus 65 degrees. I spent about half-an-hour there and I was completely frozen."

It gets so cold at the South Pole that, when they land, they don't actually shut down the plane, they refuel them while the plane is running--something that we would never do anywhere else. If they shut down, they might not start back up."

Aside from the incentive flight, what did you do for fun? 

"There wasn't too much to do. There were a couple places to hang out, get a few beers, something like that--a dayroom with darts, video games."

"The Friday before we left though, after work I got to take a tour of the pressure ridges which is where the permanent ice shelf meets the expanding sea and creates basically mountains of ice. So we took a nice three-hour tour of that. And after we got back, a few other guys and I decided to take a hike to the top of observation hill which is a small mountain overlooking McMurdo station. They have a cross up there dedicated to Scott, the guy who discovered the South Pole but never made it back."

Based on your experiences, what advice do you have for younger Airmen who are still honing their craft? 

"If you get the opportunity to go really anywhere or do something special, take it. Especially really early on in your career, to learn every-thing you possibly can because you want to get to a point where you don't have to rely on other people to have to do your job. Also, it's great to work with other people and units so we start building relationships throughout the community."