Raven on the ‘Cap


By  Major Terry A. Arnold

Photos by TSgt. Dan Doherty, AAVS



It's clearer than a million miles/exaggerated the pilot, Major Jack Fenimore, "so we shouldn't have any problems getting in." An exaggeration, yes, but what's the difference?


Fenimore could be forgiven some puffery.


The weather was absolutely perfect—brilliant sunshine set against a cloudless sky. Not at all expected but, then, not all that surprising, either. One learned early to expect the unexpected In the Arctic.


Here in the middle of the Greenland icecap—white stretching endlessly that day and topped by an azure blue sky—he couldn't have hoped for better flying conditions for Raven 91, his call sign that day.


In the weeks before, a year's supply of fuel and non-perishables had been flown to Greenland's DEW Line sites, operated by civilian contractors, as part of the annual spring re-supply. This week's job was a tad different; Heavy construction equipment and everything from bolts to boards, 140,000 pounds worth, had to be hauled to DYE-2, one of the two icecap stations.


The Greenland portion of the DEW Line is the eastern extension of the 3,300-mile detection system that forms the first line of aerial attack warning against the Northern Hemisphere.


Built upon layer after layer of compressed snow, the DYE-2 radar site has to be literally "jacked up" two or three times a year to keep it high enough above the accumulating eternal frost.  The 'cap's depth at its center is estimated to be more than two miles.

The 109th Tactical Airlift Group, to which Fenimore and his crew are assigned, has participated in this re-supply mission for two years now. This year they took over completely from the Alaskan Air Command's17th Tactical Airlift Squadron, which had checked out the 109's crews during the 1975 operation.


An unusual mission? Yes, in triplicate.


First of all, it's unusual in the sense that Arctic flying is regarded as the most hazardous in the world, Second, it's even more unusual because the 109th TAG flies C-130D aircraft— A-models equipped with teflon-coated skis attached to each wheel axle in addition to normal wheel configurations (all five of the Air Force's "ski birds" belong to the 109th).  And capping it all off is the fact that the 109th TAG, based at Schenectady County Airport, belongs to the New York Air National Guard (NYANG).


What's an ANG outfit doing in the wilds of 700,000 square miles of icecap with the only ski-equipped aircraft in the Air Force? Simple, They are first-line people with a first-line, active duty mission. And they are proud of it! "We've got the experience," boasted Major Vic Lecce, overall mission commander for the week. "We do it better, sweeter, and faster!"


Although normal Arctic flying by the 109th occurs during the spring re-supply, the unit is available anytime throughout the year when bulky supplies and    equipment are needed at the sites. Because the snow never diminishes, the 109th's unique equipment and crew capabilities make it the only unit able to complete the tricky job.



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