Adventure on the Greenland Icecap

Crosswind Landing During Whiteout Conditions

Everything looked normal as we approached the DYE site with our first POL load for the day. There was some blowing snow below us, but you could still see the surface with very little difficulty. There was a moderate cross-wind to the flagged runway that we had been using routinely because of the leveled surface.

The approach was normal and was being flown by the command pilot Bill Deboe. However, about twenty-five feet from touchdown, we abruptly entered the blowing snow, and it was at that moment we realized the horizontal visibility was almost nonexistent. From that point on we were on instruments. Following established procedure, the descent was continued at 100-300 fpm, and the aircraft touched down with no problem. Once on the snow, however, we could feel the aircraft turning, but we had no external visual references to judge the rate of turn by or to use for correcting for the turning. Attempts were made to correct for the turning by reference to the instruments, but this was not effective. All we knew was by the "seat of our pants" that we were turning!! You could feel the aircraft leaning some. Anyway, we soon came to a stop without a prop touching the surface, but we had no idea where we were in relation to the runway or the DYE site! We had made a successful zero-zero landing in a moderate cross wind.

The navigator, Frank Brammer, using the airborne radar, was able to locate the DYE site and the runway. We knew that we could successfully take off into the wind without forward visibility, but it was preferred to offload the POL first. But to do that we had to find the Caterpillar and sled. By radio, we agreed to meet the Cat on the runway. We would taxi to the runway and slowly move down the runway towards the Cat, and the Cat would move slowly towards us. The Navigator gave us a vector to the middle of the runway, but we discovered that we could not tell if the aircraft was moving because of the wind and blowing snow. The visibility was so bad we could not see the surface of the snow from the cockpit. (The normal rocking of the aircraft from taxing could not be distinguished from the rocking caused by the wind.)

The loadmaster opened the front crew entrance door and stood on the first step with his headphones on to tell us when the aircraft was moving. He gave feedback on when we started to move and also provided guidance on the speed at which we were taxing, since we had no information on how fast we were moving. By following this process we finally were able to get back to the runway and meet up with the Cat. The POL was offloaded, and we made an uneventful zero-zero takeoff into the wind. From that time on, one of my rules for an Icecap landing was never to try a cross-wind landing into blowing snow. A much safer approach is to land off the prepared runway into the wind-an open snow landing. The horizontal visibility under such conditions simply cannot be judged from the air. (Ray Hull, Firebird Pilot, 1963-67)