Thursday February 18, 1999 :
US Navy ends antarctic service
The Navy Wraps UpA Long Polar StretchSYDNEY ( AP ) - The last US Navy plane flew out of Antarctica today, ending an American naval tradition of polar service stretching back more than 160 years.
"Operation Deep Freeze," the mission to supply American and New Zealand Antarctic bases on the Ross Sea coast, was turned over last year to the US Air National Guard detachment operating out of Schenectady, NY
The Navy phased out its operations over several years to cut costs, finally turning over the last of them to the Air National Guard, which also supports US military bases in Arctic Greenland.
Naval traditions in Antarctica go back to British Capt. James Cook's first expedition into Antarctic waters in 1773, when he first sighted the ice barrier surrounding the continent.
The US Navy sent its first expedition south in 1838, when Lt. Charles Wilkes explored about 1,200 miles of the Antarctic Peninsula.
US interest in Antarctica waned until the 20th century, when Navy aviator Adm. Richard E. Byrd, who claimed to have flown over the North Pole in 1926, reported a flight over the South Pole in 1929.
In 1946, Byrd led a massive Navy exercise to prepare the US military to fight the Soviet Union in polar conditions. Antarctica was chosen because war games in Alaska or Canada would have been too provocative.
Byrd led 4,700 men on 13 ships and 33 aircraft into Antarctica, pioneering the use of helicopters and icebreakers. The exercise was by far the biggest expedition ever sent to the continent.
The US Navy's rugged support force for the continent included the "Ice Pirates," six Bell Huey helicopters that airlifted scientists and their cargo to remote stations.
Other pilots also belonged to the Navy's VXE-6 flight detachment, which flew six aging LC-130 Hercules transport planes. The planes brought in supplies and people, landing on either skis or wheels, depending on whether they set down on snow or ice.
The last Navy flight from McMurdo base was an LC-130 Hercules cargo plane from the VXE-6 squadron.
Fifty Americans have died in Antarctica since the US Navy renewed its modern expeditions in 1955.