Division of Polar Programs
National Science Foundation (NSF)
A soon-to-be completed runway at McMurdo Station, which will allow the continuous operation of wheeled aircraft to bring in passengers and cargo to support the National Science Foundation-managed U.S. Antarctic program, will be named "Phoenix Airfield", NSF officials said today.
Phoenix Airfield will replace the deteriorating Pegasus Runway, which for the past 25 years provided a wheeled landing strip on glacial--"blue"--ice.
Phoenix is taken from the name of a propeller-driven C-121 Constellation transport plane, which was flown during the 1960's and early 1970's by Antarctic Development Squadron Six (known colloquially as VXE-6) a Navy unit which for many years provided operational support to the Antarctic Program.
Phoenix Airfield will replace a landing strip known as Pegasus Airfield, which was named after a sister Constellation to Phoenix. That plane was damaged on landing in 1970 and its airframe still is located near Pegasus Airfield.
The naming of the new field not only honors early workhorse aircraft but also echoes the mythological tradition of a new entity arising from the ashes of the old.
Phoenix Airfield is expected to undergo operational testing and to receive its first wheeled landings during the 2016-17-field season.
NSF began to search for a site to construct a replacement runway for Pegasus in 2014. Pegasus Runway had suffered surface melting near the middle of the Antarctic research season--which stretches from October to February--which prevented aircraft from using the runway until late March when falling temperatures allowed the surface to freeze again.
The Antarctic Program relies on a variety of military and civilian aircraft to carry out science, passenger transport, and resupply for the program. The largest of those are both military aircraft: the ski-equipped, propeller-driven LC-130 Hercules, flown by the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard and the even larger C-17 jet, which is flown out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State.
The C-17 is able to carry more passengers and cargo from New Zealand to Antarctica than the LC-130, but can only land on wheels on a runway like Pegasus or Phoenix.
After initial site characteristics were confirmed for the new field and a preliminary airspace analysis was completed, construction began on the Phoenix Airfield at a site approximately three miles away from Pegasus. Unlike its predecessor, the Phoenix Airfield is based on compacted snow rather than glacial ice. While the new location brings new challenges, construction to date has met or exceeded expectations.