21st Composite Wing
|A sudden crackle from the voice box filled the room. "C-130 on final approach!" Only two of the dozen men in the small dining room make any sign of having heard. One mumbled something about "third load today."
On board the aircraft, the navigator pursed his lips into the headset mike and said calmly, "Two miles to station, can you see it yet?" Two seconds later the pilot answered, "No. Which side will it be on?" "The right." "Roger, There it is. And there's the flags. Good show. Skis down and locked. Comin' down."
RIGHT TIME - A minute before this photo was taken the big C-30 was too far away to see through the white glare of the Ice Cap . A minute after, the diesel fuel was running swiftly into the buried 100,000 gallon tank. The three tubular structures sticking our of the snow are access ways to the tanks.
|The right wing dipped, leveled, dipped and leveled again. There was a crosswind. Suddenly, the whole plane began to shake as if it had been placed on a vibrator. Clumps of yellow flags flashed by the windows, then a line of blue flags showed up against the hard arctic whiteness. The big C-130 Hercules had rumbled back onto the Greenland Icecap-for the second time that day, the eighth time that week. And, another load of fuel had arrived at DYE 3.|
|EXPERIENCED - Major Bill Bless, one of the 17th "old heads" checks his instruments during a flight over the Ice Cap. The 1968 POL resupply will be his last, but then he's been doing it for seven years. "It's a hell of an experience," he says.|
|April, 1968. The annual resupply of fuel to the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line station high on the Greenland Ice Cap is under way. The 17th Tactical Airlift Squadron is providing the sites with their very lifeblood-diesel fuel. More than 3,300 gallons per load. Twelve to sixteen loads per day for as many days as it takes. Routine? Maybe. Important? Certainly. Difficult? Without a doubt.|
The mission sounds so simple. Refill the fuel tanks at two radar stations. But, the facts surrounding these particular radar stations are highly unusual. A quick history may be helpful before continuing with the 1968 story.
DYE 2 and DYE 3 are part of the line of radar stations that stretch along the Arctic Circle from Alaska to Iceland to warn of enemy bomber attack over the Pole. The name DYE comes from Cape Dyer, a DEW line main station in Canada. The two Icecap sites were built in 1958-60 and became operational in 1961.
The association of the DYE sites with the 17th TAS began in early 1961 when the ski-equipped C-130's that had originally hauled all the materials to build the sites were assigned to a reactivated 17th Troop Carrier Squadron at Dyess AFB, Texas. The mission of resupplying the DYE sites remained with the 17th , however, because of the skibird C-130's. When the 17th came to Elmendorf in 1964, the skibirds came too, and so did the Greenland mission.
Today, the 17th keeps two C-130's at Sondrestrom at all times to make the supply runs to the sites. DYE 2 is 100 nautical miles out on the Icecap and DYE 3 is 100 nautical miles beyond that. These sites are completely dependent on the 17th for everything. Every solitary article at both sites, from the smallest printed circuit to the largest steel beam, was delivered by a C-130. The biggest single item of resupply is diesel fuel.
The fuel resupply is an annual springtime maximum effort today due to a complexity of weather and logistical reasons. Briefly, the 17th must empty the reserve tanks at Sondrestrom so there will be room for the fuel the ships bring in after the fjord thaws. The 17th does their part this early because the Icecap snow conditions are better for landing and take-offs than they are will be later in the summer. The fuel is used in the diesel generators which power the radar and communications systems.
Until this year, the diesel fuel was flown to the sites in 300 gallon rubber bladders which were offloaded and then drained into permanent tanks. Because of the volume involved, about 600,000 gallons each year, the project usually took about six weeks.
This year, the bladders have been replaced with semi-permanently installed metal tanks which need not be removed for any part of the action. The fuel is simply pumped into the tanks through a hose, flown to the sites and drained into the storage tanks through another hose. No modification at all was necessary to the aircraft, and the new system is faster, hauls more fuel per load and requires fewer men in attendance. A model of cost reduction, zero defects, and logical engineering that works like a charm. So what makes the fuel resupply mission so unusual and difficult? Keep reading.
|CONTACT - The all important connection. The engines are not even shut down for the few minutes it takes to transfer more than 3,000 gallons of fuel from plane to tank. With the new system, spillage was measured in ounces.|
All photos by A1C George Dame
|Colonel Kenneth E. Bethe, commander of the 17th is doing what he likes best-flying. The temperature outside the cockpit is 40 degrees below and the visibility is terrible. Everything is white. He is five minutes from making a landing on the Icecap. There are no facilities for an instrument landing, and the runway is simply the expanse of snow that happens to be between two rows of yellow flags. Finding that runway and directing the aircraft on the final approach is entirely up to the navigator, Captain Eugene Soeder. Captain Soeder speaks into this headset mike, "Two miles to station, can you see it yet?"|
Inside DYE 3, Larry Daugherty, the station chief, hears the announcement that a C-130 is making its final approach. He turns to Lee Grammer, the sector rigger and says, "Everything must be clicking, that's the third load today." No one knows better than he how important each load is, but how little anyone in the station can do to help the airplane to get down. He has watched the C-130's come in to the site for more than four years.
|LONG DAY - Major Richard Schmidt, mission commander for the 1968 resupply, grins at the end of a long day. As overseer of the whole airlift he found little time to do much real flying. He actually had to compete with the other eager pilots of the 17th TAS.|
|Hours later back at Sondrestrom, Major Richard Schmidt goes over the figures for the day-sixteen loads-8 for each site-a total of 53,111 gallons. Major Schmidt is a C-130 pilot, but for the 1968 resupply push he is the mission commander. The crews and airplanes rotate from Elmendorf, but he stays at Sondrestrom until it's all over.|
It is all over now. As of Friday, May 3, 1968, after only sixteen days of concentrated effort, the 17thy had transported 595,963 gallons of fuel on 181 loads. The tanks are almost brimming. The mission is complete and the extra "Firebirds" have come home to Elmendorf. Operation "Cool Dew" for 1968 is done.
Article courtesy of:
Richard H. Schmidt, Firebird Pilot
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