In reality, the Greenland Ice Cap is one huge pile of snow that is stacked up to over 10,000 feet. The two communication sites, named Dye II and Dye III (whose construction resembles a Texas Tower), were located at the 7,500 and 8,500 foot levels (approximate) of the ice cap. The civilian crews that manned the Dye II and Dye III stations depended on resupply by the 17th TAS C-130Ds that were equipped with snow skis. The Greenland Ice Cap is very remote and foreboding. Strong winds often whip the surface of the snow into hard frozen waves. When those conditions existed attempts to land and take-off on the "open snow" surface had the effect of beating the aircraft skis, as well as the aircraft, to pieces. On the Ice Cap one is truly alone!
Resupplying the sites from Sondestrom AB by the 17th TAS crews that were TDY from Elmendorf AFB presented unusual problems for aircrews. In addition to the extremely cold temperatures the weather is quite changeable and unpredictable. Also, there were no weather personnel on the Dye sites so altimeter settings that were provided were always suspect. On a few previous occasions crews had been surprised when they ran aground on final approach several miles short of the runway due to a faulty altimeter setting. The on-board electronic equipment was not capable of providing actual height above the surface of the snow.
Operating a C-130 with snow skis is unique, to say the least. The "gooney bird" nickname may have been given to the C-47, but the name could have easily applied to the ski-equipped C-130D. The ungainly take-offs and landings sometimes prove challenging. JATO (Jet Assisted Take-Off) procedures were used when the characteristics of the snow prevented take-off with maximum engine power.
Landings were hazardous in strong cross winds because if the pilot allowed the aircraft to touch down in a crab or drift the skis could be knocked off easily causing loss of the aircraft (the design has been improved on newer versions of the Hercules). Landing wing low with a ski-equipped aircraft has the same effect as any skier who banks his skis. The aircraft turns quickly. Not a good technique on narrow runways.
The C-130Ds were quite old (built in the 50's) and the navigation equipment was primitive, to say the least. Snow, particularly when stacked to a depth of thousands of feet, did not provide normal returns on the old APN-59 radar (whose returns on the screen resembled buttermilk in a bowl), and the radio altimeter equipment would not measure the actual altitude above the snow. Landing in "white out" conditions was like landing at a field that was suspended in mid air with no visible horizon and no way to visually judge height above the snow, tricky for some, but at the time we thought we could conquer the world alone.
Our navigators were highly skilled in the arctic environment. They had to be to overcome challenges they faced. ARA (Airborne Radar Approach) was the only instrument approach method authorized on the Greenland Ice Cap at that time, but it was even an overstatement to call it a non-precision final approach. The graded snow runways at both Dye II and Dye III were outlined with squares made from a cloth mesh which gave a surprisingly good return on the radar and allowed the navigator to conduct an ARA. Navigators had some additional help with wind drift information from an early version of Doppler navigation. Although runway lights also outlined the runways night missions were approved for extreme emergencies only.
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