Thule Air Base

Thule Air Base - Bluie West 6

Thule Air Base is located about 900 miles south of the North Pole, and 950 miles north of the arctic circle.

Located near Dundas, a former trading station founded in 1910 by the Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen, who used it as a base for five Arctic expeditions between 1912 and 1924.

The base is built on a broad and rather flat glacial valley floor between two bedrock ridges, North and South Mountains. The valley slopes gently to the east-southeast until it meets a tongue of the ice cap, the Great Land Glacier, about 10 miles inland.

The initial airfield and base were build by the US Government in 1951 in just 104 days under total secrecy---code name "Blue Jay".
The base was to provide a refueling point for long range bombers potentially directed to the Soviet Union.

The magnitude of the construction accomplishment in building Thule Air Base is hard to appreciate.
However, consider that the 63 supply ships followed ice breakers crushing through six feet of sea ice into North Star Bay on 9 July 1951 and the construction crews they carried (4000 men) left by plane in October of the same year after having built a large paved runway, taxiways, pads, several huge hangars ( a C-141 can with ease be inside), each with eight hangar door sections weighing 230 metric tons a piece, several large fuel storage tanks, barracks and support facilities for 4000 personnel, and storage buildings, roads, and other necessities of a small city.

All of this was constructed on 480 meters of permafrost and build to withstand winds in excess of 240 km/hour and temperatures below -40 degree.

In the following years the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) was built, on a mountain 12 miles from main base. BMEWS could detect a door-size object over the soviet union
Later other radars were added for better tracking and prediction of impact points of missiles leaving the
USSR or launched from submarines. Satellite tracking was also added.

Various scientific ventures were launched from Thule AB, one of the most ambitious projects was Camp Century, an entire city carved 200 feet into the Ice Cap 150 miles from Thule.

It was built in 1959 and closed in 1967, there were 63 tunnels with housing, research and an entire vehicle maintenance shop, due to the location 150 miles out on the ice, heating and power was a problem.

Building a nuclear power plant at the site solved that problem; this power plant also solved the problem of getting fresh water.
By using the excess heat from the power plant, a hole was melted into the ice, creating a reservoir of fresh water.

Camp TUTO (Thule Take Off) was the supply point for Camp Century; it was located on the edge of the Ice Cap some ten miles from Thule main base.

Today only the small airstrip, the two ramps up on the ice and two of the sledges used to transport the goods is remaining, all other has gone.

At times during the cold war Thule Air Base and adjacent facilities have been home to over 10,000 people at once.

Today only about 800 men and woman live here, of which 130 are United States soldiers.

Over the years, with ballistic missiles, more sophisticated bombers, aerial refueling and satellites, Thule's defense mission has changed somewhat.
Currently Thule Air Base is home of 12th Space Warning Squadron, Detachment 3, 22nd Space Operations Squadron, Danish, Greenlandic and American contractors.

This is a personal story from Charles B. Carroll, mailed to me on May 31st 2007

I was in Thule April '62 to April '63. in Installation Engineering. Most memorable to me is the ocassion when a jet fighter flew into the frozen bay while on a maintenance test flight. The plane nor pilot was never found. During the recovery effort, a base C-47 flew into a mountain and killed several on board. Then, a squadron of C-123s came in from the States to use flares to try and pin point a crash site. This was in the darkest part of the winter. Next summer a drag chute was found on the ice cap. One of the attached photos is of the tomb of sailors who died during the winter of 1848(?) when they were ice bound on North tar Bay. The other pix are an aerial of the base; the BMEWS antennae and a floating ice berg in the Bay.