Thule Air Base Had Many Interesting Communications Facilities


Telephone switchboard I was the Telecommunications Officer in the Air Force Communications Squadron on Thule AB. We had many types of interesting communications facilities. One of the most important communications facilities - at least to the people there - was the telephone system. Telephones were available in most of the private rooms and all of the offices. Personal calls to the U.S and Denmark were allowed on weekends for individuals. The toll charges started from Newfoundland, so that was only half bad.

Thule airways radio Thule Airways radio communications with aircraft flying in the Arctic was a high priority mission that went on 24-hours a day 365 days a year.

Thule subcable head The submarine cable from the U.S. terminated here in this building. Every year as soon as the ice in southern Greenland broke up, Russian "fishing boats" appeared, and the cable would be cut. We then had to use radio for all communications. The "fishing boats" had many antennas and remained in the area as long as the sea ice was clear. We (the U.S.) would make repairs the last few days of clear seas before winter. Thule Air Base then had a little more secure communications for the winter season - until the next thaw.

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An interesting transmitter was this huge "walk-in" high powered transmitter built by General Electric (FRT-4, 50 kW).

Thule LF transmitter It had a brass rail in front of it and those so incline could stand at the rail and look at the powerful vacuum tubes glowing in the window. For electronics technicians, that was the next best thing to TV.

The antenna for this transmitter was 50 feet (15 m) taller than the Empire State Building at 1,241 feet tall (378.25 m). It was the tallest antenna in the world for many years until larger TV antennas were constructed. High winds across the antenna created so much static electricity that blue arcs were common on the transmission line inside the building and jumping across the antenna insulators outside that were rated at 1 million volts.

Thule MARS station The Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) station was an important link to the world for the people stationed at Thule AB. It used shortwave radio and sent messages to radio amateurs ("Hams") around the world who would relay the messages on to the hometown destination. However, shortwave communications was not easy to use in this part of the world. When the wind blew ice crystals against the antenna, static electrical charges built up and caused high static interference. Also, the northern lights (aurora borealis) caused difficulties with the high-frequency radio reception.

Thule 'P' Mt Tropo siteOne of the several communications links to the U.S. was a tropospheric scatter system that was on top of "P" Mountain. A high amount of radio frequency energy was blasted out the antennas shown to reach about 900 miles to the south. It was relatively reliable except in extreme weather conditions.

Thule 'P' Mt Tropo antennasAll these communications systems were used before satellite communications were invented. They seem really crude compared to now. At the time, the most reliable, and most appreciated form of communications, was the mail service. Unlike the electronic communications, the mail plane could bring handwritten letters, pictures, and gifts. There were a lot of sad faces and grumpy people the couple of times the plane made it all the way to Thule but could not land because of a sudden storm and had to return to the U.S. :-(

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© Copyright 1999, revised 2014 by Lawrence Rodrigues
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