Operation Christmas Drop 2022

On 4th December 2022, the United States Air Force and partner nations launched another edition of Operation Christmas Drop – unique humanitarian airlift operation in the western Pacific.

It all started during the Christmas season in 1952, with the crew of WB-29 weather monitoring aircraft, built on basis of B-29 Superfortress. The aeroplane, then assigned to the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, was performing a routine mission south of Guam. While flying over Kapingamarangi atoll in Micronesia, the crew noted islanders waving to them. Without much hesitation, the airmen gathered all they could find in the aircraft, put those items into a container with a parachute attached to it – and dropped that load on the atoll.

That casual initiative turned into an annual event, incorporating several units of the US Air Force, Navy and the Marines, as well as private citizens and organizations. Every year, military cargo aircraft deliver and drop food, supplies, educational materials and toys to inhabitants of remote islands across the Pacific Ocean. The area covered by Operation Christmas Drop includes territories of the Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of Palau, being nearly as broad as the continental US.

Since 2015, Operation Christmas Drop evolved into multinational event with participation of the Japan Air Self-Defence Forces, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, the Republic of Korea Air Force and the Philippine Air Force.

´Make a list, check it twice´ – crewmembers of the 36th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron add items to a box during Operation Christmas Drop 2022 at Andersen Air Force Base (USAF photo by Yasuo Osakabe)
A Japan Air Self-Defense Force C-130H Hercules taxis down the flightline at Andersen Air Force Base (USAF photo by Yasuo Osakabe)

The airdrop is performed as Low Cost Low Altitude operation, with use of repurposed personnel parachutes and other available resources to build supply pallets and drop them at a low altitude for better accuracy.

According to the official USAF releases, the supplies are being delivered to approximately 20,000 islanders living on more than fifty Micronesian islands and the total load exceeds 50,000 pounds of cargo.

Training flights for this year´s edition of Operation Christmas Drop were already launched on 1st December 2022, at Andersen air base. This time, the USAF C-130J Hercules airlifters from the 36th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron will be supported by C-130H aeroplanes of the ROKAF, the RAAF, the RNZAF and the JASDF.

Operation Christmas Drop is the longest-running US Department of Defense mission still ongoing. It is also considered the longest-running humanitarian airlift in the world. Military cargo aircraft participating in that operation are usually flying from Andersen Air Force Base (Guam) and Yokota Air Base (Japan).

Apart from delivering critical aid to island communities throughout the western Pacific, Operation Christmas Drop also provides a unique opportunity for the aircrews and ground maintenance personnel to hone important skills needed for future military and humanitarian aid missions. 

36th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron C-130J loadmasters discuss airdrop operations over Saipan, during Operation Christmas Drop 2022 practice flights. (USAF photo by Yasuo Osakabe)
Bundles descend from a U.S. Air Force C-130J Super Hercules assigned to the 36th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at Ulithi, Federated States of Micronesia, Dec. 4, 2022. The aircraft, call sign Santa 11, delivered 14 bundles to the eastern Caroline Islands, included Asor, Falalop, and Fais islands. (USAF photo by Yasuo Osakabe)

Cover photo: A Republic of Korea Air Force C-130H Hercules taxis down the flightline at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Nov. 29, 2022, during Operation Christmas Drop 2022 (USAF photo by Yasuo Osakabe). All photos © U.S. Department of Defence (DoD). DoD information materials were used, in compliance with Public Domain licence. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.