17th Troop Carrier Unit's C-130 Hercules Ski-Equipped

The 17th Troop Carrier Squadron here claims the unique distinction of having the only ski-equipped Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft in the Air Force. It also has one of the most diversified missions of any unit in the Air Force. Hauling supplies to Distant Early Warning sites on the Greenland ice cap and aircraft control and warning sites in Alaska, flying search and rescue missions over both, providing tactical airlift for Army ground forces and flying paradrop missions of both supplies and personnel are but a few of the tasks assigned to the organization since it joined AAC last June.

The two sites in Greenland are completely dependent on the 17th for their every logistical need. Every stick of lumber, every man, every piece of equipment, everything going to or coming from the sites is flown in or out by the 17th. Runways on the ice cap consist of packed ice outlined by pennants on bamboo poles. No ground controlled approach or navigational air facilities exist to help pilots find their way down. Nor are there any fire fighting or emergency equipment or personnel to man them in case of an accident. If the aircraft should crash, the only medical help available is out of a first aid kit. Yet, the big Hercules, with their crews of six, keep the supplies coming.

Missions are carried out in all kinds of weather, the most dangerous of which is the "whiteout." This occurs when snow is complete and the clouds so thick that light reflected by the snow is of about the same intensity as the light of the sun after it passes through the clouds. During a whiteout, no object casts a shadow and the horizon is indiscernible. Another hazard always with crews on takeoff is the tendency for ice to stick to the skis, requiring increased power to break free. Perversely, however, the air is so thin because of the altitude of the ice cap the Hercules' four 3,750 horsepower turboprop engines are robbed of nearly one-fourth of their thrust.

Of all the heavy material and bulk supplies flown in, petroleum products, especially diesel fuel, are probably the most dangerous to the flying crews. The Greenland sites are equipped with 10,000 gallon collapsible storage tanks, buried in the ice, to hold their petroleum supply. Fuel is hauled in 500-gallon cylindrical shaped collapsible bladders, lashed three to a pallet. Each C-130 carries two pallets or about 25,000 pounds of payload. With that amount of fuel aboard, a puncture in one of the bladders could prove disastrous.

After a few flights of this sort, crews of the 17th are likely to rate comparatively less demanding tasks in their mission as "milk runs."

Sourdough Sentinel
Elmendorf AFB, Alaska
Friday, October 23, 1964

Article courtesy of:
Don Wilkerson
17th TCS Pilot