Fletchers Ice Island Page 2

 

 

The 17th Tactical Airlift Squadron, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, has provided a continuous lifeline to the island's personnel and its research projects through both airdrops and air landing. Initial involvement began on 25 July 1968, when the 17th TAS was requested to airdrop emergency supplies to T-3. The island's distance from Point Barrow exceeded the range of the Navy's R4-D aircraft and its ice runway was covered with water. Upon arriving at Point Barrow it was found that the proposed loads were incompatible with the squadron's C-130 aircraft.

 

To prevent further delay of these emergency supplies, the aircrew devised a makeshift drop system compatible to both the bundles and the aircraft. This display of outstanding ingenuity and extraordinary skill under adverse conditions resulted in the successful airdrop of 7,000 pounds of vitally needed supplies. Of the 28 bundles dropped not a single malfunction was noted; these airdrop procedures were subsequently adopted by the squadron. On 16 August and again on 5 September 1968, when supplies on the island reached a critical state, the 17th TAS was called upon to make two additional airdrops. Using techniques developed on the first mission the squadron was able to deliver an additional 13,000 pounds of urgently needed food and fuel oil. On 14 October 1968, another high priority mission required that a night landing be made on the Island. With the Island shrouded in the perpetual darkness of the arctic winter and without approach lights, a C-130 Hercules landed and delivered 4500 pounds of vital supplies and important Department of Defense personnel. This first night landing marked the squadron's baptism to the 3,500 foot ice runway. On 14 December 1968, with the island down to five drums of fuel oil, its sole source of heat and electrical power, the 17th TAS once again made an emergency airlift of supplies. With the island still in darkness, the squadron delivered 25 loads to the perilous ice runway. At the suggestion of crewmembers, empty 50 gallon drums were aligned alone the aides of the runway to serve as radar reflectors to aid the navigator in picking out the runway on his radar scope. This mission was completed on 7 March 1969.

 

With proven capability the squadron was now given complete responsibility for the continued resupply of the Island. Missions were now scheduled and mission commanders were aisle to plan, delegate, and utilize squadron resources at a more efficient level. The first of two scheduled airlifts was initiated from Point Barrow on 24 April 1969. Despite unusually bad weather conditions the 17th TAS completed the mission on 8 May 1969, making 55 trips to the island and delivering 498,100 pounds of essential cargo. From 30 June 1969 to 27 September 1969, with the runway at T-3 unsuitable for landing, the squadron again reverted to airdrop procedures in order to resupply the island. During one of these missions the weather held at a ceiling of 300 feet and a visibility of 1/4 mile. A method of aerial delivery under instrument conditions had to be developed to complete

the mission. Utilizing airborne radar approach procedures, a skill now highly developed in the squadron, the navigator directed the aircraft along the left side of the runway, using the island's radio beacon to assist with alignment and timing. These techniques were similar to those used in the resupply of Khe Sahn, Vietnam, a few months earlier, but differed significantly in that the aircraft's line-up could be made without costly ground radar equipment. All drops made during this period were successful. During the Fall 1969 airlift, a new and improved phase of the operation began. At the suggestion of the 17th TAS, portable approach and strobe lights, along with radar reflector flags were flown in and installed to increase the probabilities of a safe approach and landing. The ice runway was extended an additional 800 feet. Sixty-two loads of fuel oil and general cargo, amounting to 741,900 pounds, were delivered as scheduled.

 

During the Spring 1970 airlift the 17th's own combat control team provided airways communications, runway surveillance and maintenance, and operation of radar navigation beacons. Defying chill factors in excess of 60o Fahrenheit, which may cause unexposedo kin to freeze in less then one minute, the 17th TAS delivered 49 loads, a total of 692,300 pounds of essential cargo to the island. During this lift superior planning and Initiative

by 17th TAS Mission Commanders resulted in considerable cost savings to the Department of Defense. The island was located 900 miles north of Point Barrow, Alaska and 610 miles northwest of Thule Air Base, Greenland. Favorable weather conditions at Thule allowed that phase of the operation to be completed ahead of schedule. By taking additional loads of fuel oil from Thule rather than from Point Barrow as originally requested, a very significant savings in flying time and man-hours was realized.

The professionalism and dedication of the aircrews, maintenance personnel and command leadership of the 17th TAS exemplified the very highest traditions of the military services during this outstanding airlift. This unit's efforts enabled the Navy Arctic Research Laboratory to continue the vital research underway at Fletcher's Ice Island. Without the superior effort put forth by this unit, the entire scientific program would have been jeopardized or seriously curtailed and a major portion of the personnel of the ice Island evacuated. Recommend that the 17th Tactical Airlift Squadron, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, be awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation in recognition of outstanding achievement, resourcefulness, and devotion to duty during emergency and scheduled resupply of Fletcher's Ice Island during the period 25 July 1968 through 17 April 1970.

 

 

 

 

 

 Back to Top