In Alaska, where snow machines are commonplace, the 17th Tactical Airlift Squadron has gone one up on everyone-its snow machine is the 75,000 pound ski-equipped C-130D Hercules.


Photo courtesy of Mearl Nichols, Firebird Navigator

SNOW TAKEOFF - Landing and taking off on snow and ice is considered the most hazardous take off made by any Air Force aircraft anywhere. The aircrews of the 17th Tactical Airlift Squadron who operate the huge C-130D ski equipped transport find it just a part of their job to support "top cover of America."


A glance at the varied missions of the 17th TAS, commanded by Lt. Col. Kenneth E. Bethe, makes it one of the most unusual flying outfits in the Air Force today! In 1961, the 17th was transferred to the Alaskan Air Command and made Elmendorf AFB its new home. The move followed extensive missions one year earlier throughout Greenland. In supporting the construction of two of the dew line radar sites, DYE No. 2 and No. 3, the unit mounted a record airlift of 28 million pounds.

(Webmaster's Note: The author of this article is incorrect. The 17th Troop Carrier Squadron was transferred to Alaska beginning on April 1, 1964. The unit which supported the construction of these DYE sites was the 61st Troop Carrier Squadron, Sewart AFB, Tennessee.)

In addition to airlifting all the construction materials to points on the ice cap, aircraft of the squadron now maintain these sites with 2,700,000 pounds each year. The radar sites are completely dependent on aerial resupply for their total logistical support. Everything going to or coming from the sites is carried by the squadron's ski planes.

Supplying them and the radar sites in Alaska, is no easy job. The enviable safety record of squadron pilots landing and taking off under adverse weather conditions, attests to their skill. The runway at the Greenland sites consists of packed ice outlined by small poles. There is no ground control approach navigational aides to guide aircraft to their destination.

Taking off and landing in the 75,000 pound ski-equipped is risky. But, when you add bad weather or "sticky" ice, the operation of the aircraft is made no easier. When the sun has been shining on the snow all day, the snow has a tendency to stick to the surface of the skis. This forms a surface tension that requires additional power to free the aircraft on takeoff. Due to the altitude, the air is so thin that the four 3,750 horsepower turbo prop engines are robbed of nearly a quarter of their usable power. This brings out the best in the pilot. After many trips up and down the runway using the weight of the aircraft to "pack" the snow and often with an assist from the rear mounted JATO rockets the bird can get airborne.


"The snow take-off is by far the most hazardous," remarked Captain Ray D. Reaves, a pilot who has been with the 17th for six years.

In addition to supporting the radar sites logistically, the 17th TAS handles a good share of the search and rescue and air evacuation missions in the Greenland and North Atlantic area. "Judging from my flying experiences," commented Major Walter H. Ott, the unit's operations officer, "these missions in the remote Artic regions are most challenging and demanding of both aircraft and crew. They require almost superhuman flying skills. The crews must rely completely on their own calculations and navigation. If they make a mistake they're in trouble, alternate bases are few and far between out here!," he added.

Working with six ski-equipped and six standard C-130s the 17th TAS is constantly being called upon for even more unique flying assignments. Airlifting a seriously ill child, delivering a load of supplies to the floating ice island known as Fletcher's Island (T-3), dropping supplies and paratroops in combat control team exercise...the list is endless. In Southeast Asia, they established a record of flying more hours per day in support of the Vietnam conflict than any C-130 outfit stationed there.

(Webmaster's Note: The 17th flew support for the construction of Tuy Hoa.)

More Accomplishments

Additional accomplishments of the unit include its remarkable safety record-not one major accident since 1961. They have won the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for the last three years! They have also won the Alaskan Air Command Flying Safety Award for the last two years; and, this last year, won the Air Force Flying Safety Award. There are only 20 given worldwide each year.

The Sourdough Sentinel
Friday, December 8, 1967
Page 8.

Article courtesy of:
Richard H. Schmidt, Firebird Pilot