|Antarctic Development Squadron Six|
Insignia of Antarctic Development Squadron Six (VXE-6)
|Active||1 January 1969 – 31 March 1999|
|Branch||United States Navy|
|Type||Test & Evaluation|
|Part of||Naval Air Systems Command|
|Garrison/HQ||Naval Air Station Quonset Point|
|Nickname||"The Puckered Penguins"|
|Motto||"Courage, Sacrifice, Devotion"|
|Colors||Tail code JD XD(1969–1999)|
CDR Eugene W. Van Reeth, 1969
|Reconnaissance||P2V-2 Neptune, DHC-3 Otter|
|Transport||R4D Dakota, R5D Skymaster, LC-130 Hercules|
Antarctic Development Squadron Six (VXE-6 or ANTARCTIC DEVRON SIX, commonly referred to by its nickname, The Puckered Penguins) was a United States Navy Air Test and Evaluation Squadron based Naval Air Station Point Mugu, California with forward operating bases at Christchurch, New Zealand and McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
Established at Naval Air Station Quonset Point, Rhode Island on 1 January 1969, the squadron's mission was to provide aviation support for Operation Deep Freeze, the operational component of the United States Antarctic Program. Following the closure of NAS Quonset Point in the 1970s, the squadron relocated to NAS Point Mugu. Using the tail code JD and XD, the squadron flew numerous aircraft over the course of its existence. Following the closure of austral summer operations at Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station in February 1999, the squadron returned to Naval Air Station Point Mugu, California, where it was disestablished on 31 March 1999.
On 1 January 1969, the former VX-6 (Air Development Squadron Six) was redesignated as VXE-6 (Antarctic Development Squadron Six). Eight months later, on 31 August 1969, two LC-130 Hercules aircraft of VXE-6 arrived at McMurdo Station, 6 weeks in advance of the opening of Operation Deep Freeze 70. Among the passengers were Rear Admiral David F. Welch, Commander U.S. Naval Support Force Antarctica (NSFA) and seven scientists.
During Operation Deep Freeze 1978, VXE-6 evacuated five critically injured Soviets from the crash site of an IL-14 Crate transport aircraft at Molodyozhnaya Station on the southern shore of Alasheyev Bight in the Cosmonauts Sea. This trip was 1,825 miles round trip from McMurdo Station.
On 28 November 1979, Air New Zealand Flight 901 (TE 901) crashed into Mount Erebus, killing all 257 on board. Three hours later, VXE-6 initiated the search and rescue effort (referred to as Operation Overdue), sending an LC-130R Hercules (XD-01, BuNo 160741, c/n 4731) and two UH-1N Huey helicopters from McMurdo Station to search the area of the last known position of TE 901 (approximately 38 miles true north of McMurdo Station). These aircraft were joined a half hour later, at 4:16pm by six more aircraft launched from McMurdo Station.  No survivors could be seen. At around 9:00 am, twenty hours after the crash, helicopters with search parties managed to land on the side of the mountain. The search parties confirmed that the wreckage was from Air New Zealand Flight 901, and that there were no survivors. In June 2009, Fifteen U.S. citizens were presented the New Zealand Special Service Medal(Erebus) for their work in the body recovery, victim identification and crash investigation phases of Operation Overdue, and resulting from the TE 901 crash. Those receiving the medal included LCDR Reedy Buford, CDR William Andre Coltrin, CDR Paul Richard Dykeman, LCDR William F. Ferrell, LCDR John K. Goodrum, PHAN Charles (Chuck) Hitchcock, PH2 Richard L. Horton, ENS George Mixon, CAPT Victor Louis Pesce, CWO Choyce Prewitt, and AD2 Brian Jon Vorderstrasse.
In 1988, another medical evacuation to the South African National Antarctic Expedition (SANAE) Station at Vesleskarvet nunatak broke the record for time and distance in a single Antarctic flight. Another highlight of the 1988 season was the recovery of an LC-130 Hercules that had been buried in ice and snow since its crash in 1971 near Dumont d'Urville Station. That aircraft was fully restored and operated with VXE-6 until its disestablishment in 1999.
In 1990, VXE-6 moved almost 8,000 passengers and over 6 million pounds of cargo which included five resupply flights to Vostok Station. That year, VXE-6 also accomplished the first wheeled landing of an LC-130 Hercules on a blue ice surface near Beardmore Glacier. On 25 October 1991, the first all-female crew took an LC-130 Hercules to "open up" Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
1993 saw VXE-6 break many records, including the transportation of nearly 9.4 million pounds of cargo and fuel. On 3 February 1996, during the squadron's 40th annual deployment to Antarctica, the squadron conducted its last helicopter mission in Antarctica. The helicopter component of VXE-6 was formally disestablished in April 1996. 1997 marked the beginning of a three-year program designed to transition United States Department of Defense long-range logistic support for the Antarctic Program from the U.S. Navy to the New York Air National Guard (NYANG). 1998 was marked by the delivery of materials necessary to begin the construction of the new South Pole Station, completed in 2005.
Beginning in 1997, responsibility for long-range logistical support of Operation Deep Freeze was transferred from the VXE-6 squadron to the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard (NYANG). The transition was planned over a three-year period to avoid any negative impact on operations and to ensure a complete transfer of knowledge from the U.S. Navy unit to the NYANG. During the 1996/1997 season, VXE-6 operated six aircraft and was augmented by aircraft of the NYANG. VXE-6 operated five aircraft during the 1997/1998 season, and the number of flight hours was divided roughly equally between VXE-6 and the NYANG.
The United States Air Force, via the 109th Airlift Wing of the Air National Guard, officially took over responsibility as the primary Department of Defense partner for the National Science Foundation in support of the U.S. Antarctic Program at the beginning of the 1998/1999 season. A new organization, Detachment 13, was formed to manage the overall support from the Department of Defense. The detachment replaced the NSFA organization. The main organizations under Detachment 13 were the 109th Airlift Wing of the NYANG, the Navy’s VXE-6 squadron, and Aviation Technical Services. For the 1998/1999 season, the six LC-130s of the NYANG were augmented by only three LC-130 aircraft of the VXE-6 squadron.
Operation Deep Freeze 1999 was VXE-6's last deployment season in support of the United States Antarctic Program. On 24 February 1999, following the closure of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station's summer operations, the last three LC-130R Hercules from VXE-6 returned to Naval Air Station Point Mugu, California. The squadron was disestablished on 1 April 1999. Over the course of its existence, VXE-6 logged more than 200,000 flight hours in direct support of United States interests (primarily scientific research) in the Antarctic. The squadron transported more than 195,000 passengers, delivered over 240 million pounds of dry cargo and nearly 10 million gallons of fuel to numerous sites throughout Antarctica.
The squadron operated a variety of aircraft throughout the course of its existence. Fixed-wing aircraft included the Grumman UF-1L Albatross, de Havilland Canada UC-1 Otter, Douglas C-47 Skytrain (R4D Dakota and LC-47 models), Douglas C-54 Skymaster (R5D and C-54 models), Lockheed P-2 Neptune (P2V-2 and P2V-7 models), Lockheed R7 Constellation (R7D and R7V models), and the Lockheed LC-130 Hercules (LC-130F and LC-130R models). Helicopters included the Sikorsky H-19 Chickasaw (HO4S-3 model) and Sikorsky LH-34 Seahorse (HUS-1A and HUS-1L models), and the Bell UH-1N Twin Huey. The ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules, with its long range and heavy load capability, had been in use in Antarctica since 1961 and continues in its critical role to this day. Introduced in 1971, the twin-engine UH-1N Huey helicopter allowed for the rapid transportation of field teams and cargo to otherwise inaccessible locations within a 150-mile radius of McMurdo Station.
Aviation accidents and incidents
In the 30-year history of VXE-6, three military personnel and four civilians died in Antarctica as a result of aviation accidents. On 19 November 1969, a helicopter crash near Mount McLennan resulted in the deaths of two civilians—Jeremy Sykes, an NZARP film director and Thomas E. Berg, a USARP geologist. On 9 December 1987, an LC-130R (BuNo 159131, c/n 4522) crashed while landing at Site D-59 (Carrefour), 1,200 kilometers from McMurdo Station. LCDR Bruce Bailey and AK2 Donald M. Beatty were killed in this crash. Ironically, this mission was an attempt to recover the "City of Christchurch" aircraft that had crashed at the same site in February 1971. On 31 October 1992, a UH-1N Huey helicopter (BuNo 158249, c/n 31420) crashed in whiteout conditions near Cape Royds, resulting in the deaths of AMS1 Benjamin Micou and two civilians working for NZARP (Garth Varcoe and Terry Newport).
In addition to the aforementioned fatality accidents, there were a number of less serious accidents. On 8 October 1970, a Lockheed C-121J Constellation (BuNo 131644, c/n 4145, named "Pegasus") departed Christchurch, bound for Williams Field. Aboard were 12 crew and 68 passengers on the first flight of the 1970-1971 season of Operation Deep Freeze. Weather conditions at Williams Field deteriorated during the flight to whiteout conditions, with a fierce snowstorm and zero visibility. After making six low passes over the field, the aircraft attempted to land with 90 degree crosswinds of up to 40 mph. On the second attempt to land, the starboard main undercarriage hit a snow bank and separated. The starboard wing broke off, and the airplane slid through the snow, causing damage to the tail. There were only slight injuries to five people on board. The aircraft hulk is still there.
On 1 February 1971, an LC-130F (BuNo 148321, c/n 3567) crashed in Victoria Land when a JATO bottle broke loose during an open field takeoff. This caused the nose landing gear to collapse. Two weeks later, on 15 February 1971, another LC-130F (BuNo 148318, c/n 3562, named "City of Christchurch") taxied over a snow berm during a storm while maneuvering for take-off at McMurdo Station. The wing hit the ground, and the aircraft was burned beyond salvage. This was the first USN Hercules written off. On 28 January 1973, an LC-130R (BuNo 155917, c/n 4305) crash landed at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, after a late go-around in whiteout conditions.
The original LC-130R crashed while landing at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in 1973.
In the 1974/75 season during an open field takeoff on Dome C a JATO bottle on an LC-130F came loose and damaged the wing and one propeller thus causing an aborted takeoff. A fire in the wing caused further damage to the wing. An LC-130R was used in an attempt to rescue the scientists and aircrew. Reluctant to use JATO, the nose gear of the LC-130R collapsed in the rough ice and snow during the takeoff, forcing the rescue attempt to be aborted. A third LC-130 finally succeeded in rescuing all of the involved personnel. The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Navy made plans to recover the two downed aircraft during the next season. This involved replacement of the wing on the first aircraft and of the nose landing gear on the second aircraft. Preparations were made during the off-season to accomplish the repairs. After temperatures had risen sufficiently the recovery operations began in November 1975. Many flights were needed to transport all the material to the Dome C site. As an LC-130F took off for return to McMurdo another JATO bottle came loose, again damaging a propeller. Thus, Dome C became the home of three damaged LC-130s. As the damage to the last LC-130 was relatively minor compared to the others it was repaired first. Through the extraordinary effort of the repair team, maintenance team and aircrews, all three aircraft were repaired and recovered from Dome C.
On December 31, 1993, an LC-130 crashed on Lucy Glacier near Mount Isbell in the Geologists Range. The aircraft was retrieving a field party from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee who had spent six weeks investigating the geology in the mountains between the Byrd Glacier and Nimrod Glacier. The crash occurred in soft snow during an open-field takeoff when a propeller struck the snow, sending the propeller into the fuselage. Fuel from the damaged engine ignited, and the plane spun sideways sliding for approximately 200 meters down the glacier before coming to a stop. The plane was overhauled on site and flown back to McMurdo Station three weeks later.
- History of the United States Navy
- List of inactive United States Navy aircraft squadrons
- List of United States Navy aircraft squadrons
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- Use of P2V aircraft for Operation Deep Freeze by the US Navy's squadron VXE-6
- US Navy and US Marine Corps Aircraft Serial Numbers and Bureau Numbers--1911 to Present
- Blue Ice Runways in Antarctica