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Icebound Cargo Plane to Get Warm Welcome

From Associated Press

Military and science officials Saturday prepared for the arrival of a 37-ton LC-130 Hercules cargo plane salvaged from Antarctica 17 years after it crashed and froze.

The Navy’s Antarctic Development Squadron 6, the “Puckered Penguins,” was readying the hangar where the plane will be housed after its scheduled 4:30 p.m. Saturday arrival, said Lt. Cmdr. Gene Okamota, air station spokesman.

The squadron flies support missions to Antarctica for the National Science Foundation. The foundation had used the huge, once-icebound Hercules for scientific missions.

Abandoned in 1971

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The four-engine Hercules was abandoned in December, 1971, at a remote site about 700 miles from McMurdo Sound after delivering fuel and other supplies to a scientific team measuring snow accumulation on the East Antarctic Plateau.

The pilot was forced to make an emergency landing on takeoff after a malfunction. The aircraft’s front landing ski and nose were damaged but the crew and several French scientists aboard were not injured.

The aircraft is designed for use in polar climates and has one-ton, Teflon-coated “wheel-skis” to break the grip of ice on takeoff.

The Hercules was one of seven owned by the foundation, and its loss hurt the group’s ability to conduct field projects, foundation officials have said.

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A salvage crew spent 42 days working in freezing temperatures, heavy snow and windstorms to excavate the damaged Lockheed aircraft, repair it and fly it out. Before it was salvaged on Jan. 10, 1988, all but the top three feet of the plane’s 38-foot-high tail was buried by snow.

Lockheed engineers found that many hydraulic and electronics systems were still working. There was still air in the tires and gasoline in the tanks.

The plane has been in Christchurch, New Zealand, for renovation before its return to the United States for the first time in 18 years.

Foundation officials say about $4.2 million was spent to excavate and overhaul the plane. The estimated cost of a replacement plane is $35 million.

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