Skiing On The Greenland Ice Cap... In a C-130!




By Colonel Charles T. Heifner and Colonel James R. Larkins

An examination of the flying experiences of any two pilots in the USAF whose careers totaled nearly sixty years is bound to reveal some interesting, and sometimes hair-raising situations. Remote and/or hostile environments are rich with unique flying stories. This is just one such story.

Flying C-130s in Alaska during the early 1970s with the 17th Tactical Airlift Squadron (TAS), based at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, would not normally conjure up thoughts of much more than a "trash hauler's milk run" experience. The area of responsibility for the unit was vast, extending from the western tip of the Aleutian Islands to the East Coast of Greenland, and all areas north. The mission was particularly challenging for navigators who used "Polar Grid" charts and primitive ground based navigation stations. The words global, position, and system were just three isolated words in the English language at that time.

To some, the C-130 "Herc" is about as ugly an aircraft as one could imagine. Hang skis on the aircraft and the ugliness factor is magnified. But don't tell those on the ground who are waiting for the precious cargo aboard the aircraft, or those who are desperately trying to leave how ugly the Herc is. To them the appearance of that ugly duckling is a beautiful sight.

The mission, however, was unique for the pilots and crews who were operating C-130A and C-130D model 4-engine bush planes, literally. Flying into remote, short gravel airstrips that were oriented up and down the sides of mountains (one way in - and the opposite way out; the approach had better be right the first time because go-arounds were not possible), tricky take-offs and landings from the uneven surface of a floating ice-island named T-3, and airdrop and resupply of personnel on the frozen surface of the ocean north of Point Barrow, Alaska, produced unique and fun experiences. The most unusual mission, however, was resupply of two communication sites [formerly part of the Distance Early Warning (DEW) system] located on the Greenland Ice Cap.



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