Firebirds Support Fletcher’s Ice Island


Fletcher's Ice Island, referred to as T-3, is an iceberg of Canadian origin. The island is approximately three by seven miles in size and drifts aimlessly throughout the Arctic Ocean.  First inhabited in 1952 as an arctic weather reporting station, it was abandoned in 1954 and reinhabited on two subsequent occasions. The Island presently houses components of the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory, headquarters at Point Barrow, Alaska. The Ice Island serves as a base of operations for the Navy's arctic research projects such as sea bottom and ocean swell studies, seismographic activities, metrological studies and other classified projects under the direction of the Department of Defense.  Manned by personnel of the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory, its population varies as research requirements demand.


Resupply of Fletcher's Ice Island is hampered by a multitude of varying obstacles.  Because of the island's movement, it has been necessary to operate from two resupply bases. Point Barrow, Alaska and Thule Air Base, Greenland. Both bases are subject to the severities of the Arctic and may go below weather minimums without warning.  Winds in excess of 45 knots and temperatures below minus 30° Fahrenheit have been recorded

at both stations during resupply operations. The majority of the resupply must take place during the winter while the runway at T-3 is suitable for air-land operations. This also necessitates operating during the most severe weather conditions, with low ceilings and reduced visibility prevailing. In-flight emergencies are extremely hazardous, magnified by

the fact that the nearest suitable alternate airfields are 475 miles south. Flights to and from the island are conducted in an atmosphere devoid of navigational aids. The feat of guiding the aircraft over the barren sea ice and open water to the constantly changing position of

T-3 is achieved solely by dead reckoning and celestial grid navigation.  This is hampered, however, by long periods of twilight which limit celestial observation. Because of the absence of reporting stations and the distance that must be traveled over remote arctic wastes, accurate weather forecasting is impossible. Pilots and their crews must plan

cargo and fuel loads precisely to insure a safe return should conditions at T-3 prevent landing.


Although the island is 125 feet thick and weighs over seven billion tons, it rises only ten feet above the surrounding ice and is virtually indistinguishable from the pack ice at any distance. Approaches for landing in this austere environment must be made using either airborne radar or the island's radio beacon. Airborne radar approach procedures, originally

designed by the 17th Tactical Airlift Squadron (17th TAS) for its Greenland Ice Cap operation, have been further modified for the Ice Island's constantly changing runway axis and are the primary means of letting down to the runway. By precise radar tuning and target interpretation the navigator directs the aircraft to landing minimums. If the copilot has the runway in sight at this time, he continues to direct the pilot toward the landing. This is necessary due to the fact that transition from instrument flying to visual contact with the runway can be extremely difficult and often misleading. Depth perception in the arctic environment is deceiving. The horizon is nonexistent when blowing snow and ice crystals combine to produce the condition known as a 'white out". Crew coordination becomes the key to successful operations in this environment, and the utmost in skill and judgment is required of all crewmembers to make an ice strip landing. Each and every landing under such adverse conditions must be considered a calculated risk. Offloading the aircraft is also a hazardous task. Engines are normally left running due to the extreme cold and the absence of support equipment. The danger to parka-clad men working around spinning propellers is compounded by the increased possibility of frostbite from propeller blast. Loading and offloading operations demand constant vigilance by ground personnel and aircrew members alike. 





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