Santa’s sleigh looks like an Air Force cargo plane to many people living on isolated Pacific islands.
The crews of Japan- and Guam-based C-130J Super Hercules aircraft are preparing for this year’s Operation Christmas Drop — a long-running annual mission to provide much-needed supplies to the islanders.
The airlift mission, which kicks off this year on Dec. 11, includes the Yokota-based 374th Airlift Wing and Andersen Air Force Base’s 36th Air Wing. The Royal Australian Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force are also taking part.
The packages contain items such as fishing nets, construction materials, powdered milk, canned goods, rice, coolers, clothing, shoes, school supplies and, of course, toys.
The Australian air force deployed a C-130J and its crew to Andersen on Thursday to join the mission.
“Operation Christmas Drop provides support to more than 20,000 people in remote communities spread over six million square kilometers across the West Pacific including the Northern Mariana Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Republic of Palau,” Air Commodore Richard Lennon, commander of Australia’s Air Mobility Group, said in a statement.
Lennon praised the training value of the operation, in which crews must plan and execute a challenging mission in an unfamiliar drop zone, delivering parcels weighing more than 400 pounds.
“Many of these communities have little physical contact with the outside world, and airdrop is an excellent means of delivering supplies when there’s no other quick alternative, either due to the distances involved or lack of available infrastructure,” Lennon said.
Christmas Drop began in 1952 when crew members of a WB-29 reconnaissance aircraft noticed islanders of the atoll of Kapingamarangi waving at them as they passed overhead. The crew decided to box up items from the cabin, attached a parachute, and circled around to drop it to them.
Australia and Japan have assisted in the operation since 2015.
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