National Geographic : 1953 Apr
Airmen Bundled Against Minus 20° Cold Survey Their Snowbound Domain in the Polar Sea Explorers may well have mistaken ice islands for land; they inked Arctic charts with "discoveries," only to have them vanish before the next man appeared. In 1946 the Air Force determined such objects were adrift, and in March, 1952, a ski-footed C-47 left three Americans on island T-3 to man a station (page 493). One of them was the author, Lt. Col. Joseph 0. Fletcher (left), for whom the spot later was named. Lt. Col. Jack W. Streeton (right) was able to land this C-54 on wheels because a snow path had been smoothed. Sledges can move perilously across the pack, but they carry little. The men who first came by air had no stable platforms for their camps, supplies, and scientific instruments. But here, at last, in the form of ice islands, were the platforms. In January, 1952, the Alaskan Air Com- mand organized "Project Icicle. " Its mission was twofold: to establish on an ice island a weather-reporting station for Air Weather Service and a geophysical research base for Air Research and Development Command. I was placed in charge. A first consideration was selection of the is- land. Of the three in the polar sea, old Target X, now named T -1, had drifted back home to Ellesmere. T -2, which squarely crossed the geographical Pole, was leaving our field of action (page 497 and map, page 493). \Ve took T-3, about a quarter the size of T-1 and slightly more rugged of surface (pages 4?0, 495). By the time we were ready, it should be 120 miles from the Pole, although this was of no practical importance as long as the island stayed well at sea in an area where no weather data were being obtained. Preparations kept us at Ladd Field during January and February. Then we flew to Thule, in Greenland , an Air Force base so new that we pioneered the supply route from Alaska. Scouting an Icy Future Home On March 14 we judged it time to scout our island, unseen for three months. A flight of 97 5 miles brought our four-engined trans- port over it at 88° 17'N., 166° 13'W. As nearly as we could judge, it had not changed a whit since it was photographed a year before. Only at the tips of the irregular ellipse were the island's ice ridges too high for safe landing. We agreed it would not be difficult to bring a ski-equipped C-4 7, grand old twin- engined work horse of the armed forces , down onto the packed snow surface of T-3.