Thule Air Base

Infobox Airport
name = Thule Air Base
nativename = Part of Air Force Space Command (AFSPC)
nativename-a =
nativename-r =

image-width = 250
caption =
type = Military
owner =
operator = United States Air Force
city-served =
location = Qaanaaq
elevation-f = 251
elevation-m = 77
coordinates = Coord|76|31|53|N|68|42|12|W|type:airport
website =
metric-elev = yes
metric-rwy = yes
r1-number = 08T/26T
r1-length-f = 9,997
r1-length-m = 3,047
r1-surface = Asphalt
stat-year =
stat1-header =
stat1-data =
stat2-header =
stat2-data =
footnotes =

Thule Air Base, (or Thule Air Base/Pituffik Airport) airport codes|THU|BGTL, an unincorporated enclave within Qaanaaq municipality, Greenland, is the United States Air Force's northernmost base, located 1118 km (695 mi) north of the Arctic Circle and 1524 km (947 mi) south of the North Pole on the northwest side of the island of Greenland. It is approximately 885 km (550 mi) east of the North Magnetic Pole. It is the site of the former town of Dundas, which was moved to Qaanaaq for the construction of the base. The permanent population of the base was 235 as of January 1, 2005.



The Weather Bureau has been authorized by the Congress to establish a network of stations in the high latitudes of the Western Hemisphere in cooperation with other interested countries, for the purposes of taking surface and upper-air observations and making such other meteorological studies of Arctic weather conditions as may be practicable. During ,the past 3 months, with the assistance of the War and Navy Departments and the Civil Aeronautics Administration, hundreds of tons of cargo-quarters, furnishings, special clothing; food, medicine, instruments, tools, and other materials and supplies vital to the success of the project, have been procured and assembled at Boston for shipment north-ward. Personnel-administrators, forecasters, observers, doctors, radio-men, mechanics, and cooks-have been selected and all other detailscompleted. As the initial phase of this meteorological network, a complete surface and upper-air observation station will be established at Thule, Greenland, during the current summer. The personnel and supplies are now being transported to that place in Navy cargo ships which left Boston July 18, 1946. After construction of buildings, installation of meteorological instruments and radio facilities, and other preliminary work have been completed about the middle of September, the meteorological program will be started. Initially, it will consist of a 6-hourly surface observation, pilot-balloon observations at 0400 and 1000Z, and a rawinsonde observation, at 1500Z daily. If circumstances permit, a second daily rawinsonde and 3-hourly surface observation will be added at a later date at which time, pilot-balloon observations ,will be made at 1000 and 2200Z daily, and rawinsondes at 0300 and 1500Z. Other special observations will be undertaken as may be practicable. Mail and critical supplies will be flown into and out of Thule by War Department aircraft, For administration and coordination; of the project, a unit designated as the Arctic Meteorological Service section has been organized in the Central Office of the Weather Bureau under Mr. D. M. Little, Assistant Chief, Technical. The section is headed by Mr. Charles J. Hubbard, formerly Lieutenant Colonel in the U. S. Army Air Corps, who has spent several years making studies of and exploring the Arctic. He is assisted in a consultant capacity by the noted Arctic explorer, Sir Hubert Wilkins, who has done much of the planning of equipment and supplies, Mr. Paul A. Miller, formerly Assistant Regional Director of Region 2, is the Administrative Executive of the project. Mr. E. E. Goodale has been assigned as official in charge.

OBSERVATIONS AT THULE, GREENLAND...Twice daily pibals, 0400 and 1000 GCT, were begun on September 1 and one daily radiosonde at 1500 GCT, on October 1, 1946, at Thule, Greenland. The elevation of the floor of the instrument shelter, used as "surface" on adiabatic charts in units 0.98 gdm., is 39. See Topics AND PERSONNEL, September 1946.

WITH THE WEATHER BUREAU IN THE ARCTIC... Way up north on Wolstenholme Sound on the west Coast of Greenland, in a region where the Arctic Circle lies as far to the south as does Montgomery, Ala., from Chicago, stands the northernmost weather station in the world. Located a few miles from the Danish settlement and Eskimo village of Thule, the weather station has both an interesting history and a future rich in promise of achievement in the cause of international meteorology. As a result of negotiations with the government of Denmark, it was agreed in 1946 to expand the small Danish weather station at Thule into a modern geophysical laboratory and meteorological observatory. Last summer, with the cooperation of the U. S. Army and Navy six wooden buildings were erected, instruments and communications equipment installed, and a year's supplies and provisions provided. The work was supervised for the Bureau by the newly organized Arctic Section, under the leadership of Charles J. Hubbard, a veteran of Arctic exploration since 1917, and a wartime expert for the Army Air Forces on Arctic airports and weather stations. As specified in the enabling agreement, one-half of the 22 weathermen at Thule are Danes and one-half Americans. Another clause in the agreement provides for the transfer of the station to entire Danish Control at an appropriate later date. Both nationalities are working together with high morale and in complete harmony at this first international weather station. Danish activities are directed mainly toward taking magnetic observations; the Weather Bureau crew is busy withits schedule of complete surface and some upper-air observations. Every 6 hours Thule radios to Washington, and every 3 hours it transmits its reports to stations in the north Atlantic forecasting area. The official in charge at Thule is E. E. Goodale of Boston. W.B. Chappell, formerly official in charge at Norfolk, Nebr., and Earl A. Johnson, known for his work with Ocean Weather during the war, and also there. The American personnel includes CAA radio operations on loan to and paid by the Weather Bureau, and consists of men chosen for their all-round ability, Arctic experience, and skill along speci1ized lines. The cooks, for example, are experts, capable of turning out Southern-fried chicken in definitely non-Southern surroundings. Plans for the future envisage Thule as a center for Arctic upper air, ionospheric and magnetic studies, as well as for research on the growth of sea ice on snow surfaces, icing on aircraft, and special Arctic phenomena. It's hoped that Thule will be the first of a network of stations which, in conjunction with the Canadian observatories, will furnish adequate coverage of the vitally important Arctic zone. Expectations are that next summer will witness the establishment of at least one more station north of Thule Weather Bureau employees interested in this adventurous assignment should write to the Arctic Section for further information. Positions are unclassified, and salaries range from about- $5,000 to $6,000 a year. As this issue of TOPICS AND PERSONNEL is being prepared for press, the sun is shining on Thule for the first time in 4 months. During the winter (November-February) darkness, however, life was far from dim. Mail was flown in and out once a month; special food packages arrived by the same route. Heavy winter clothing (in addition to food and shelter) was furnished free, but the men worked in pretty much the same clothes as they would in the States, except when their work called them outside. At Christmas, gifts and a tree were flown in, and New Year's Day was marked by a party given for the Eskimo children. About 125 Eskimo families live near Thule; dubbed “ the Arctic Highlanders" by an early explorer, they are the northernmost of any Eskimo tribe, and have supplied sturdy assistance to more than one Polar expedition. Latest word is that a fire destroyed the Thule rawin equipment. This 1oss, however, has already been replaced by stand-by equipment and should prove no handicap to those able Weather Bureau men who are making the Arctic yield its weather secrets.

NOAA Central Library Silver Spring Maryland USA, WEATHER BUREAU TOPICS 1946-1949, PAGE 58-59

The military installations at Thule were constructed just after World War II, after the U.S. in 1941 established ties with a Greenland left essentially autonomous by the Nazi German occupation of Greenland's colonial power Denmark. By 1951 sufficient improvements to the infrastructure had been made to station some bombers here during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.1950 United States Weather Bureau, Thule Station: Early Photo's


With only a few days notice, the local Inuit community was forced to move away from their ancient hunting grounds in May 1953 and resettle in Qaanaaq, north of Thule. They were not awarded compensation until 1999.Fact|date=September 2008

Originally established as a Strategic Air Command (SAC) installation, Thule would periodically serve as a dispersal base for B-36 Peacemaker and B-47 Stratojet aircraft during the 1950s, as well as providing an ideal site to test the operability and maintainability of these weapon systems in extreme cold weather. Similar operations were also conducted with B-52 Stratofortress aircraft in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1954, Globecom Tower, a tower for military radio communication was built. At the time of its completion it was the third tallest man-made structure on earth.

In the winter of 1956-57 three KC-97 tankers and alternately one of two RB-47H aircraft made polar flights to inspect Soviet defenses. Five KC-97s prepared for flight with engines running in at temperatures of convert|-50|°F|°C|abbr=on in order to ensure three got airborne. After a two hour start, a B-47 would catch up with them at the northeast coastline of Greenland where two would offload fuel to top off the B-47's tanks (the third was an air spare). The B-47 would then fly seven hours of reconnaissance, while the tankers would return to Thule, refuel, and three would again fly to rendezvous with the returning B-47 at NE Greenland. The B-47 averaged ten hours and 4500 km (2800 mi) in the air, unless unpredictable weather closed Thule. In that case the three tankers and the B-47 had to additionally fly to one of three equidistant alternates: England, Alaska, or Labrador. All of this in sometimes moonless, 24 hour Arctic darkness December through February. These flights demonstrated the capability of Strategic Air Command to Soviet Anti-Air Defense.

In 1959, the airbase was the main staging point for the construction of Camp Century, some 150 miles from the base. [Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, [ Thule Air Base/Camp Century information] , verified 31 August 2008] Carved into the ice, Camp Century was a scientific research base. Powered by a nuclear reactor, the camp operated from 1959 until 1967.


In 1961, a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) radar was constructed at "J-Site," convert|21|km|mi|abbr=on northeast of main base. BMEWS was developed by the Raytheon Corporation in order to provide North America warning of a transpolar missile attack from the Russian mainland and submarine-launched missiles from the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans. At this time, Thule was at its peak with a population of about 10,000. Starting in July 1965, there was a general downsizing of activities at Thule. The base host unit was deactivated. By January 1968, the population of Thule was down to 3,370. On January 21, 1968, a B-52G bomber carrying four nuclear weapons crashed just outside Thule - see below.


Thule, Greenland, is also the location where the fastest sea level surface wind speed in the world was measured when a peak speed of 333 km/h (207 mph) was recorded on March 8, 1972. Thule is the only Air Force Base with an assigned tugboat. The tugboat is used to assist ship movements in the harbor during the summer, and is hauled onto shore during the winter season. The tugboat is also used for daily sightseeing tours of Northstar Bay during the summer months. Thule became an Air Force Space Command base in 1982.

B-52 Nuclear Bomber Crash

On January 21, 1968, a B-52G bomber crashed and burned on the ice near Thule Air Base, the fire detonating the high explosives in all four of the B28 bombs it carried. More than 700 Danish civilians and U.S. military personnel worked under hazardous conditions without protective gear to clean up the nuclear waste.Fact|date=September 2008 Afterwards, there were attempts by both the U.S. and Danish authorities to deny the fact that nuclear waste was involved, though a large number of the Danes involved reported various health problems including cancer and sterility.Fact|date=September 2008 In 1987 nearly 200 of the Danish workers unsuccessfully attempted to sue the United States. However, some information has been released by the U.S. authorities under the Freedom of Information Act. But Kaare Ulbak, chief consultant to the Danish National Institute of Radiation Hygiene, said Denmark had studied the health of Thule workers in detail, and found no evidence of increased mortality or cancer.cite news | first=Stephen | last=Schwartz | coauthors= | title=Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 | date=1998 | publisher=Brookings Institution | url = | work = | pages = | accessdate = 2008-01-22 | language = ] cite web|url= |title=Denmark's Thulegate: U.S. Nuclear Operations in Greenland |accessdate=2008-01-22 |last=Kristensen |first=Hans |date=2004 | ] cite news | first=Stephen | last=Mulvey | coauthors= | title=Denmark challenged over B52 crash | date=2007-05-11 | publisher=BBC News | url = | work = | pages = | accessdate = 2008-01-25 | language = ]


Today it is a military base, home to the 821st Air Base Group, which exercises Air Base support responsibilities within the Thule Defense Area. The base hosts the 12th Space Warning Squadron, a Ballistic Missile Early Warning Site designed to detect and track Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) launched against North America. The 21st Space Wing operates around the world to provide missile warning and space surveillance information to North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) command centers located in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. Thule is also host to Detachment 3 of the 22d Space Operations Squadron, part of the 50th Space Wing's global satellite control network and a lot of new weapon systems. In addition, the modern aerodrome boasts a 3,000 m (10,000 ft) runway and 2,600 U.S. and international flights per year.

At Northmountain there is a 378 meter (1241 feet) tall radio mast called Globecom Tower, which is the tallest structure north of the Arctic Circle in the Western hemisphere. The world's northernmost deep water port is also located at Thule.

In literature Thule Air Base appears as Thule Air Force Base in the novel Deception Point.

Airlines and destinations

*Air Greenland (Qaanaaq, from there to Upernavik, Ilulissat) (by helicopter)
*Air Greenland (Copenhagen) (charters only)

There are also charters to Thule Air Base.


ee also

*Etah, Greenland
*Dundas, Greenland
*Project Iceworm
* Eastern Air Defense Force (Air Defense Command)


External links

* [ USAF Thule Air Base] official site
* [ Falling Rain Genomics: "Thule Air Base"]
* [ The Ultimate Guide to Thule Air Base]
* [ Analysis (2005) by Danish journalist Joergen Dragsdahl on the US-Danish politics on Thule Air Base: A few dilemmas bypassed in Denmark and Greenland]

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