NCAR flight team receives Antarctic honors

Antarctica Service Medal recognizes success in challenging environment

October 19, 2016 | Four pilots and one instrumentation technician in NCAR's Earth Observing Laboratory recently received the Antarctica Service Medal from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for their research flights in that remote and challenging region. The recipients are based in EOL's Research Aviation Facility (RAF).

The medal was established by Congress in 1960 to recognize military and civilian expeditions "in the service of United States interests in Antarctica." NSF bestows this recognition on civilians who have completed at least 10 mission flights poleward of 60 degrees south latitude.

NCAR Pilots Bo LeMay and Scotty McClain

NCAR pilots Bo LeMay and Scotty McClain in the NSF/NCAR HIAPER Gulfstream V cockpit earlier this year, in Chile for the ORCAS field campaign over the Southern Ocean. (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)


The recipients are:

  • Scotty McClain - NCAR Chief Pilot, 22 mission flights
  • Ed Ringleman - NCAR Pilot, 18 mission flights
  • Lee Baker - NCAR Pilot, 12 mission flights
  • Bo LeMay - NCAR Pilot, 11 mission flights
  • Bill Irwin - NCAR Instrumentation Technician, 10 mission flights

"I am delighted that all four of our pilots and one of our instrumentation technicians have been recognized by NSF with this special medal," said EOL Director Vanda Grubišić. "The long-reach capabilities of the NSF/NCAR GV have made flights poleward of 60 degrees latitude more easily achievable. Nonetheless, these flights remain challenging, given the environmental conditions. These NSF medals represent a high honor for each of the recipients individually but also for our Research Aviation Facility as a whole."

NCAR Pilots Ed Ringleman and Lee Baker

NCAR pilots Ed Ringleman and Lee Baker work on flight preparations during the ORCAS field campaign. (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)

Two recent field campaigns, IceBridge and ORCAS, put the NCAR recipients over the top.

IceBridge, a NASA campaign that involved NCAR, included flights over the Antarctic ice sheets in 2011 and 2015 as part of a six-year mission to survey the Earth's polar ice. The NCAR-led ORCAS field campaign earlier this year investigated the Southern Ocean's capacity to soak up excess carbon dioxide.

NCAR Field Campaign Technician Bill Irwin
NCAR instrumentation technician Bill Irwin in front of his "bragging map" – the pins represent all of the places he's traveled to during his 35 years at NCAR. (Photo courtesy Bill Irwin.)

“It was an honor to receive the Antarctica Service Medal as a civilian,” Ringleman said, adding that it represented for him 18 missions and more than 200 research flight hours within a five-year span. Ringleman noted the challenge flying into such a harsh, remote environment, and planning for possible contingencies.

For example, he said, outside air temperatures are sometimes as low as minus 76 degrees Celsius (-104° Fahrenheit), which can cause jet fuel to congeal. To compensate, pilots descend into warmer temperatures or speed up the plane to create more friction over the wings to reduce fuel congealing.

Irwin said he appreciates the honor of receiving the medal. "To have flown to a very remote part of the world and seen the sights that we got to see while mapping ice flows has been a unique experience," Irwin said. "All of us at RAF provide a service to researchers that is unique and, for the most part, a lot of fun.  Work relationships become much more when you travel for lengths of time away from home. When the science teams and the aircraft team come together and things get done, and done right and safely, it gives all of us a great deal of satisfaction."

Jeff Smith, Science Writer and Public Information Officer and Cody Phillips, Writer/Editor, NCAR Earth Observing Laboratory