By Capt M.T. Ledoux, Fac. Ops O, 8 WCE
The CFB Trenton Wing Logistics and Engineering (WLE) Branch recently deployed two members of WCE Sqn and Tn/RCEME Sqn, to Station Nord, Greenland, from 14 Apr – 01 May 2015 to conduct an airfield recce of the compressed snow runway in support of trial CC-177 operations at the Danish Defence military installation. The task’s objective: follow up on an initial recce conducted by members of 1 Canadian Air Division (1 CAD) A4 CE and 429 Sqn, conduct a grip-test, and verify the modifications made to the airfield by the Station’s members in order to support the safe landing of a RCAF CC-177.
Station Nord is a military station located 650 nautical miles Northeast of Thule AFB. The station serves to provide weather data to Thule as well as support the Sirius sledge patrol, whose role is to enforce Danish sovereignty in the Northeast Greenland National Park. Station Nord is home to six members of the Danish Arctic Command who serve 26 month tours at the second most northern permanent settlement in the world. Danish military members who volunteer and are selected for this task must possess a trade skill that is applicable in the North (i.e. carpenter, mechanic, medic, etc) and must also possess a high degree of resourcefulness, adaptive techniques, ingenuity, and resilience. Members who complete the selection process not only represent the core defence values which include professionalism, teamwork, and communication, but also embody the Station’s motto: Ensom Men Stærk – Lonesome But Strong.
Not only is Station Nord home to members of the Danish Defence, it plays host to scientists of the newly upgraded Villum Research Station (VRS) which is operated by the Århus University in Denmark. Research conducted at the station is geared toward monitoring climate change and the emission of particulate matter generated by foreign industries which settle into the substrate in northern Greenland.
Conducting deployments in the Arctic poses a number of complications. Military members who deploy to the North can be certain of a singular fact: the departure date and time of an aircraft is an approximation at best. Austere weather conditions and aircraft breakdown are a tenant associated with deployments to the Arctic. Nonetheless, it was a flight crew from 436 Sqn who successfully landed the first RCAF CC-130J at Station Nord on one of the few days that clear weather prevailed.
The following day, the 2-man recce team consisting of a Construction Engineering Officer and MSE Op began assessing the airfield characteristics specified by 1 CAD A4 CE that would support CC-177 operations at the station. A host of modifications to all branches of the airfield (runway, taxiway, and apron) were necessary in order to support the landing and movement of a CC-177. The runway and taxiway had to be widened, all non-frangible objects had to be removed from the airfield, snowbanks that ranged in height from 6-14’ had to be lowered to 5’ maximum, airfield markings needed to painted, runway friction values measured, Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) capabilities confirmed, and de-fueling operations verified. Once all modifications were completed, A4 CE was notified and flying Ops were slated to begin.
Unfortunately for the CAF members on the ground, the CC-177 was never able to conduct trial operations at the station. Plagued by aircraft malfunctions and unfavourable weather conditions which featured 45 knot winds, low flying ceilings, and 100m visibility; the mission could not be completed and the team on the ground had to find another means of returning to Canada. Fortunately enough, the two members were able to hop onboard a Royal Danish Air Force (RDAF) C-130J and return to Thule a few days later.
At the end of the day, the reader may be asking themselves what was achieved. For one, the RCAF was able to deploy members to a foreign location, prepare an airfield for a larger aircraft (the Ukrainian Ilyushin IL-76 has been the largest to date), and display interoperability between NATO forces in the North. It also brought to light a unique Engineer capability, safeguarded by 1 CAD A4 CE, that allows Airfield Surface and Reconnaissance (ASAR) qualified members of the RCAF to assess austere and/or unprepared airfields in support of domestic or international Operations.
Special thanks and recognition are in order for the members of the RDAF (Maj. Jensen), Arctic Command (WO 2nd Class Have, Sgt K.E. Kristensen, Sgt L.M. Kristensen, Sgt 1st Class Møller, PO2 Pedersen, PO2 Jensen, and Sgt Smith), and 1 CAD A4 CE (Capt. Van Tine) for their hard work at coordinating efforts at the tactical level and modifying the airfield to meet RCAF standards.