Thule Air Base: Wikis


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Thule Air Base

Air Force Space Command.png
Air Force Space Command

Aerial Picture Of Thule Air Base.jpg
Airport type Military
Owner United States Air Force
Operator Air Force Space Command
Location Thule (formerly Pituffik)
Occupants 821st Air Base Group
Elevation AMSL 77 m / 251 ft
Coordinates 76°31′53″N 68°42′12″W / 76.53139°N 68.70333°W / 76.53139; -68.70333Coordinates: 76°31′53″N 68°42′12″W / 76.53139°N 68.70333°W / 76.53139; -68.70333
Direction Length Surface
m ft
08T/26T 3,047 9,997 Asphalt

Thule Air Base (or Thule Air Base/Pituffik Airport) (IATA: THUICAO: BGTL), an unincorporated enclave within Qaasuitsup municipality in northern Greenland, is the United States Air Force's northernmost base, located 1,118 km (695 mi) north of the Arctic Circle and 1,524 km (947 mi) from 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.




Major commands to which assigned

Major units assigned

  • 340th Air Refueling Squadron, 29 Oct 1956 – 30 Dec 1956
    Detached from 340th Bombardment Wing, Whiteman AFB, Missouri
  • 4083d Strategic Wing, 1 Apr 1957 – 1 Jul 1959
  • 4083d Air Base Group, 1 Apr 1957
    Redesignated: 4083d Air Base Wing, 1 Jul 1960
    Redesignated: 4083d Air Base Group, 1 Oct 1960
    Redesignated: 4683d Combat Support Group, 1 Jul 1965
    Redesignated: 4683d Air Base Group, 1 Jul 1970 – 1 Oct 1977
  • 4683d Air Defense Wing, 1 Jul 1960 – 1 Jul 1965
  • 327th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 3 Jul 1958 – 25 Mar 1960
  • 332d Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 1 Sep 1960 – 1 Jul 1965
  • OL-5, 6594th Test Wing (Satellite), Air Force Systems Command, 15 Oct 1961
    Redesignated: 22nd Space Operations Squadron, 1 Jun 1997
    Redesignated: Det. 3, 22d Space Operations Squadron, 1 May 2004 – present
  • 12th Missile Warning Group, 31 Mar 1977
    Redesignated: 12th Missile Warning Squadron on 15 Jun 1983
    Redesignated: 12th Missile Warning Group on 1 Oct 1989
    Redesignated: 12th Space Warning Squadron on 15 May 1992 – present
  • 4711th Air Base Squadron, 31 Mar 1977
    Redesignated: 4685th Air Base Squadron, 1 Oct 1980 – 31 Mar 1981
  • 821st Air Base Group, 1 Jun 2002 – present

Source for major commands and major units assigned:[1][2][3][4][5]


The first military installations at Thule were constructed just after the beginning of World War II, after the U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Danish Ambassador Henrik Kauffmann signed “The Agreement relating to the Defense of Greenland” in Washington on 9 April 1941. President Roosevelt approved it on 7 Jun 1941. In the agreement, the United States agreed to take over the security of Greenland. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the allies established weather stations at Narssarssuaq airport, Sonderdtrom (Bluie West-8), Ikateq (Bluie East-2), and Gronnedal (Bluie West-9). In 1943 the Army Air Forces set up weather stations, Scoresbysund (bluie East-3) on the east coast around the southern tip of Greenland, and Thule (Bluie West-6) to be operated by Danish personnel. The weather stations gave the allies a strategic edge over the Germans in battle planning and provided a decisive factor in D-Day.

Construction of a worldwide system of modern air bases was one of the Air Force's most important tasks following World War II. The US studied the possibility of establishing a major operating base in Greenland when it became clear that round trip flights of planes carrying atomic bombs between US or Canadian bases and European objectives were impractical. The shortest route from the US to the Soviet Union’s most important industrial areas was over the North Pole, and Thule is at the precise midpoint between Moscow and New York City. Thule became a key point in the whole American military strategy. Strategic Air Command bombers flying over the Arctic presented less risk of early warning than using bases in England. Defensively, Thule could serve as a base for intercepting bomber attacks along the northeastern approaches to Canada and the US.

A board of Air Force officers made a recommendation to pursue a base at Thule in November 1950. It was subsequently supported by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and approved by President Truman. To replace the agreement entered into during WWII between the US and Denmark, a new agreement with respect to Greenland was ratified on April 27, 1951 (effective on June 8, 1951). At the request of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the agreement became a part of the NATO defense program. The pact specified that the two nations would arrange for the use of facilities in Greenland by NATO forces in defense of the NATO area known as the Greenland Defense Area.

Thule AB was constructed in secret under the code name Operation BLUE JAY. Construction for Thule AB began in 1951 and was completed in 1953. The construction of Thule is said to have been comparable in scale to the enormous effort required to build the Panama Canal. The United States Navy transported the bulk of men, supplies, and equipment from the naval shipyards in Norfolk, Virginia. On June 6, 1951 an armada of 120 shipments sailed from Norfolk, VA. On board were 12,000 men and 300,000 tons of cargo. They arrived Thule on July 9, 1951. Construction took place around the clock. The workers lived on-board the ship until quarters were built. Once they moved into the quarters, the ships returned home.


Thule Air Base control tower, 1989.
Reconnaissance route from Thule AB to Soviet Union.
Map of Greenland
BMEWS, shown in red

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.[citation needed]

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 −50 °F (−45.6 °C) in order to ensure three could achieve airborne status. After a two hour head 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 American nuclear power also known asStrategic 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.[6] 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," 21 km (13 mi) 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 impact detonated the high explosives in the primary units of all four of the B28 bombs it carried, but nuclear and thermonuclear reactions did not take place due to the PAL and fail-safe mechanisms in the weapons. More than 700 Danish civilians and U.S. military personnel worked under hazardous conditions without protective gear to clean up the nuclear waste.[7] 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 carefully studied the health of the Thule workers and found no evidence of increased mortality or cancer.[8][9][10]

The Pentagon maintained that all four weapons had been "destroyed" but in November 2008, an investigative reporter from BBC News made use of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act to gain access to the files. These revealed that the aircraft had been carrying four nuclear bombs and that within weeks of the incident, investigators piecing together the fragments realized that only three of the weapons could be accounted for.[7] By August 1968, a Star III submarine was sent to the base to look for the lost bomb, serial number 78252, under the sea ice. Apparently, the missing bomb was not found.[7] In 2009, the assertions of the BBC were refuted in a Danish report, according to which Star III was searching for a small piece of uranium metal, the spark plug of a secondary.[11]


Today Thule is still 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, as well as operating many new weapons systems. In addition, the modern airfield 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

Airlines Destinations
Air Greenland Qaanaaq [12]
Air Greenland (settlement flights) Moriusaq, Savissivik
Air Greenland (charters) Copenhagen

There are also charters to Thule Air Base.


See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.
 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document "Thule Air Base".

  1. ^ Fact Sheet: Det. 3, 22nd Space Operations Squadron
  2. ^ Fact Sheet:821st Air Base Group
  3. ^ Fletcher, Harry R. (1989) Air Force Bases Volume II, Active Air Force Bases outside the United States of America on 17 September 1982. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0912799536
  4. ^ USAFHRA Document 00460649
  5. ^ USAFHRA Document 00461736
  6. ^ Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Thule Air Base/Camp Century information, verified 31 August 2008
  7. ^ a b c Corera, Gordon (10 November 2008). "Mystery of lost US nuclear bomb". BBC News. Retrieved 2008-11-10. 
  8. ^ Schwartz, Stephen (1998). "Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940". Brookings Institution. Retrieved 2008-01-22. 
  9. ^ Kristensen, Hans (2004). "Denmark's Thulegate: U.S. Nuclear Operations in Greenland". Retrieved 2008-01-22. 
  10. ^ Mulvey, Stephen (2007-05-11). "Denmark challenged over B52 crash". BBC News. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  11. ^ Christensen, Svend Aage (3 August 2009). "The Marshal's Baton. There is no bomb, there was no bomb, they were not looking for a bomb" (in en). Danish Institute for International Studies. Retrieved 2009-08-14. 
  12. ^ Air Greenland, Departures and Arrivals
  • Maurer, Maurer. Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office 1961 (republished 1983, Office of Air Force History, ISBN 0-912799-02-1).
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947–1977. Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Office of Air Force History 1984. ISBN 0-912799-12-9.
  • Fletcher, Harry R. (1989) Air Force Bases Volume II, Active Air Force Bases outside the United States of America on 17 September 1982. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0912799536

External links


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