For the first time since 1989, an Air Force Hercules transport aircraft has flown to Antarctica.

On February 29, a No. 37 Squadron C-130J took off from Hobart Airport for the 3400km sojourn across the Southern Ocean to the ice runway at Wilkins Aerodrome.

The flight required the use of a C-130J equipped with external fuel tanks, which increased its total fuel capacity from 19 tonnes to 27 tonnes.

The last time a RAAF Hercules touched down on Antarctic ice was in 1989, when C-130Hs from No. 36 Squadron flew missions from Christchurch in New Zealand to the American station at McMurdo.

Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Mr Kim Ellis, said the flight south to the 3.5km ice runway took about 7.5 hours.

“The Hercules delivered 780 kilograms of cargo to Australia’s expeditioners at nearby Casey research station and demonstrated the ability to carry a larger load if required,” Mr Ellis said.

“This is another great capability the Australian Antarctic Program now has to reach our stations, deliver cargo and provide medical support to our people working in Antarctica.”

The Hercules also carried additional fuel inside its cargo compartment. 

At Wilkins Aerodrome, this fuel was pumped into the Hercules’ tanks by an Australian Army Ground crewman from 6 Aviation Regiment.

Commander Australian Contingent for Operation Southern Discovery, Wing Commander Dion Wright, said the flight was one of the longest-range missions undertaken by an Australian C-130J Hercules.

“Using the C-130J provides additional capacity for the RAAF to support the Australian Antarctic Division rather than by relying on the C-17A Globemaster alone,” Wing Commander Wright said.

On February 27, a C-17A delivered a tractor and critical station equipment to Wilkins.

This included a Ground Power Unit to support the Airbus A319 transport operated by the Australian Antarctic Division, and runway grading equipment.

It returned with eight pallets of cargo and 23 passengers.

On February 29, a second C-17A mission brought another tractor to Wilkins and returned to Hobart with eight pallets of cargo and four passengers.

Since 2016, Air Force C-17As have provided airlift support to the Australian Antarctic Division, making up to six flights during the summer season.