Uruguay is among the pioneering nations in the Antarctic Treaty, keeping military personnel and scientific staff on the frozen continent year-round to conduct research studies for the benefit of all mankind. The Uruguayan Air Force (FAU, in Spanish) already made its first and second flights for the 2017-2018 Summer Campaign in support of General José Artigas Scientific Base in Antarctica. A C-130 Hercules (FAU 591) from the 3rd Air Transport Squadron was deployed for that purpose.
Uruguayan Minister of Defense Jorge Menéndez attended the plane’s departure and announced the signing of an agreement to process the first patent of the National Antarctic Program between the Uruguayan Ministry of Defense and the University of the Republic of Uruguay. “For more than 30 years, our nation maintained a permanent presence in Antarctica, in accordance with a state policy to promote an Antarctic policy aligned with United Nations’ goals for sustainable development,” Menéndez said prior to the first flight’s departure on November 7th, 2017. “Uruguay joined the Antarctic Treaty in 1980, and since October 7th, 1985, has been one of the 29 advisory members among the 53 nations in the treaty,” the minister added.
FAU plans to carry out a total of five flights during the campaign, adding flights in January, February, and April to those conducted in November and December. A crew will also remain on 24-hour standby in case of emergency during Operation ANTARKOS.
“On November 7th and December 18th, we made two flights, bringing in provisions and transferring scientific staff to the base that Uruguay has set up in Antarctica,” said to Diálogo FAU Lieutenant Colonel Martín Campoamor, commander of the 3rd Air Transport Squadron. Before each of these special flights, explained Lt. Col. Campoamor, a planning meeting is held, where all data on weather conditions, cargo and passengers is brought together. “Emphasis is always on weather conditions, which is what most limits our operations in Antarctica, where you also have to be very cautious when using the runway, due to visibility conditions.”
Each flight departs from the 1st Air Brigade, stationed next to Carrasco International Airport, on the outskirts of Montevideo. From there, it heads to Punta Arenas, the regional capital of Magallanes and of the Chilean Antarctic, where it makes the first layover after a five-hour flight. The next leg is to King George Island in Antarctica, which takes another three hours.
The Uruguayan Navy complements the support task to the Uruguayan scientific base. On December 2nd, 2017, the Lüneburg-class logistics supply ship General Artigas ROU-04 left port from Montevideo. Its main mission is to transfer tons of provisions, fuel, and construction materials to supply the base during the mission that will run through 2018. During its operations, the crew carries out a classification and waste treatment process, according to established environmental protocol, which requires that no waste be disposed of in Antarctica. Upon its return, ROU-04 will bring back compressed, packaged, and sealed shredded glass, plastics, and metals for final disposal in Uruguay.
The C-130 Hercules conducted a historic flight in support of Argentina, when it was deployed to transfer cargo from Rio Gallegos, in the province of Santa Cruz, Argentina, to the Argentinean Antarctic base Marambio, on December 13th. It was the first time that a FAU aircraft landed at that location.
“We were on the first leg of the second flight to King George Island in support of the Uruguayan Antarctic Institute. Once we landed, we were enlisted to complete the mission in Marambio, given how both of the Argentine Air Force’s Hercules planes were down,” Lt. Col. Campoamor said. “They needed to transfer diesel to their base to keep everything heated and running—it was running out of supply—so we quickly requested all the information needed, such as weather and runway conditions. It was an honor to carry out that mission, which burnished the reputation of the Uruguayan Air Force and Uruguay as well.”
FAU has made flights to support General Artigas Scientific Base in Antarctica since 1984. It made its first flight on January 28th of that year with Fairchild Hiller FH-227 aircraft and later used Aviocar C-212 aircraft. Today, FAU carries out campaigns with two C-130 Hercules acquired in 1991.