Eyewitness to History

Cold War
Weather Station NORD, an Arctic Resupply
By Harry Heist
These stories are not copyrighted unless noted but we request anyone using them for other than personal use to credit the author and the museum.

At the top of the world, our silver aircraft, with its high-visibility paint scheme, barely clears the peaks of the Arctic Ice Cap. Mountains and glaciers fall behind while others appear ahead as our C-124 Globemaster heads northeast from Thule Air Base, Greenland to the Danish Weather Station Nord, situated about 500 miles from the North Pole. Nord was built during the period of 1952 to 1956 as a weather and telecommunications station. It was needed for more accurate weather reports for Thule Air Base.

The personnel who man Nord—located on the rugged north coast of Greenland, the world's largest island—are strong men, Danes of the seafaring Viking tradition. They operate a radio navigation and weather station and maintain an emergency landing field for "Over-the-Pole" civilian airliner flights.

One of several remote outposts set deep in the perpetual Arctic snow, Nord's lifeline is from the sky. The Military Air Transport Service provides that lifeline with its giant cargo aircraft. Flying these supply runs is an annual ritual for MATS.

Five of our Dover C-124s lumber along the flesh-freezing route with crews flying them non-stop. We're cold-country veterans, and handle these missions knowing that they have to be completed without delay. We have to wrap up this operation during good weather and good weather can turn foul within minutes in the Far North.

In charge, the commander at Thule has a tough job of running this MATS operation. He and his men know how to live in this cold climate and so do we; the MATS aircrews that make the run. These supply hauls are nothing new to us. Hazardous snowy and slick runways are not the only problems as navigational equipment is extremely limited in the Polar Regions. As the global meridian lines of longitude converge at the geographic poles, this makes normal direction plotting impossible, so the navigators fly grid navigation. An aircraft can depart the North Pole in only one direction, south. The artificial latitude and longitude of grid navigation makes it possible to direct the aircraft "south" to points in the "Free World", as opposed to "south" to points behind the enemies' borders.

There are some navigational radio stations in the Arctic, which help, but our receivers have to be in top shape to pick them up. That's the importance of the MATS maintenance man and points to the devotion he brings to the Arctic resupply mission. Only the toughest, best-qualified airmen are selected for this cold-country assignment. The maintainers know the importance of their mission. Many of these airmen have been handpicked previously for the Arctic jobs and they know what it means to the aircrews if their aircraft does not perform. Their job is to get out in the cold weather and prevent mechanical problems on the big birds. Selected from MATS bases, these airmen bring their own equipment to Thule. They know the tools that they will need for this operation.

Parts and spares are stocked at all MATS bases, but for the Arctic resupply more items than usual are needed. "Fly-away" kits containing spare parts are also placed aboard the Globemasters. On occasion, C-124 flight engineers have to make quick repairs at remote outposts. Fast work is necessary in the extreme cold. There is no waiting around for the arrival of spare parts.

A grounded aircraft in the Arctic is almost certain to become "cold-soaked". When this condition occurs, aircraft rivets pop, seams spring open and a major maintenance job is required to get it going again. Restarting the engines require more than the normal gasoline oil dilution.

The hard-driving maintenance crews pull 12-hour shifts. Each shift has 12 hours of daylight conditions, for the light never completely fades when resupply is scheduled in the Polar Regions. During spring and summer months, complete darkness is unknown in the Far North.

With no artificial lighting needed, the operation rolls along fast and safely. Refueling trucks wait as the Globemasters touch down on their return to Thule and gas is pumped into the depleted tanks within minutes.

Reloaded as fast as is humanly possible by the aerial port crews, the airplanes are launched into the Arctic air around the clock. The job of freight handling never stops as these men have the cargo ready for each arriving aircraft.

A slight disruption in the schedule can easily upset the entire mission, so the loading crews aim for teamwork. Thousands of pounds of cargo are crammed into the fuselage of one of these Globemasters in just a few hours. At the same time, another load is readied for the next inbound flight. The MATS team shoots for the completion of the resupply in a little more than a week.

On polar resupply, everyone on the team is driving hard to complete an important job and despite cold country perils, we got the job done!

Additional note: Until its closure in 1972 Nord was run as a civilian base by the Greenland Technical Organization. In 1975 the base was reopened by the Danish Defense Command as a military base.