Raven on the ‘Cap – Page 2
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.
While operating in the Arctic, crews of the 109th call Sondrestrom Air Base home. Built early in World War II, "Bluie West 8," as Sondrestrom was known then, was used as a refueling site for aircraft being ferried to the European Theater. Now, "Sondy" is maintained by the Aerospace Defense Command's 4684th Air Base Group,
Adding to this congenial population are the 109th TAG ground support crews — the maintenance, operations, and supply experts—who come along to make the whole effort possible. It's their combined experience that counts. The maintenance chief for the week SMSgt. Joe Dybas, boasts that in his area, the expenence average is about 15 years per man. No slouch himself, he's been with the 109th since 1948.
Nearly 100 Air Force people and countless Danish civilians operate the DEW Line East logistical support center at Sondrestrom and provide a vital link in the Air Force communications network.
Not much had changed during the past three decades since the first ski-mounted C-47 aircraft slid to a bouncy stop in Greenland's icy interior. The snow and ice were just as deep, just as white, just as cold, and equally as dangerous. Thirty years ago, landings on the 'cap were certainly out of the ordinary,
Such feats today are still out of the ordinary. Each and every snow-blown landing and takeoff is different from the last one. The Arctic barely tolerates outsiders.
The crew of Raven 91 had gotten its first glimpse of the site from about 60 miles out. No more than a flyspeck at that distance, it stood out clearly against the blanket of whiteness from the crew's 15,000-foot-high vantage point.
At 7 1/2 miles out, Lt. Col. Paul Winkler, the navigator, began briefing for the DYE-2 approach. "If you do not have visual contact with the skiway flags at 7,920 feet," he said, "discontinue descent and maintain 7,920 feet."
Fenimore was right on the button and pressed on. He had seen the flags long before the 71/2-mile checkpoint.
"At one mile," Winkler said, "if visual contact is not made, you execute missed approach procedures and climb on skiway heading 180 degrees to 9,700 feet," No need for the missed approach procedures today. Fenimore had lined up his C-130 perfectly on the longest skiway in the world. Major Lecce likes to call it that because "here you have unlimited skiway as far as the eye can see."
That's pretty reassuring. If you do by chance over shoot your landing, and some do, you can just keep right on going and going.
Just at the moment of touchdown, Fenimore saw ruts in the snow, some of them two to three feet deep. What would they do to the aircraft? It was too late to think about that now. A few eye blinks later, flight engineer TSgt, Ron Gignac's voice crackled almost nonchalantly, "We're on the snow."
There was little sensation of actual landing on the sugar-like substance, but from then on it was "hang on to your hat!"
Fenimore, working in coordination with his copilot, Captain Sam Stephens, first raised the flaps to keep the aircraft from lifting off, and then reversed the props. Three G's of force slammed .them into their shoulder harnesses. That was followed closely by a 1 1/2 G "lift," followed again by the crushing force downward. Seat belts strained with each blow. It was like riding the ups and downs on a giant roller coaster.
As the speed diminished, so did the G-forces, and soon all was smooth and calm. Even their nerves.
As the C-130 laboriously groaned off the skyway toward the "big eye" of the North—the radar site—the aircraft was silhouetted against mile after mile of blinding desolation.
Phillips' fingers began to stiffen almost immediately in his thin flight gloves as he worked frantically to unfasten the cargo chains. His ears and nose began to deaden.
Taxiing from the skiway to the DEW Line site is akin ' to taking a cross-country skimobile trip. The feather-like padding of hundreds of feet of snow accumulated over the centuries eliminated the extreme bumps and jolts.
There are no "follow me" trucks at DYE-2, no permanent flight line support facilities. Just park it here, park if there. No matter. It's all the same.
The "loads'—short for loadmasters—TSgt Dick Phillips and SSgt. Norm McKnight quickly went about the agonizing Job of unleashing the pallet and pushing them off, not onto a ramp, but onto a giant sledge pulled by a snow-going tractor. No forklifts or automatic conveyor belts to help ease the strain. No other sophisticated machinery. Just sheer muscle power.
The C-130's cargo door height from the "ground" varies depending on the softness of the snow. This time the sledge was a good two feet below the cargo ramp. Only one thing to do; break out the shovels and pile the snow high enough until the sledge snuggled up against the ramp.