13 March 2007

Position:  73-07N/145-46W

Temperature:  -21ºF


Greetings from APLIS.  Today was “move-in” day with 13 more of our permanent camp staff arriving.  Among them was our Officer-in-Tactical command - in charge of our camp and both of the submarines, once they arrive - CAPT Ed Hasell.  CAPT Hasell is in charge of the Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ASL), our small detachment in San Diego that plans and coordinates the US Navy’s submarine Arctic program.


I told you I’d talk about how APLIS came to be.  We actually started the planning for this back in January of last year.  At first, we met just to make sure that everyone who we knew was interested in participating understood the planning process.  In the months since, we’ve developed the schedule and the tests we’re about to execute, even adding two new tests just in the last couple months.  Barry Campbell, the camp Officer-in-Charge, has worked out a matrix where he knows exactly who is flying to and from the camp every day, what the camp population will be, and what bunk everybody will occupy.  He had to make sure that there’s a seat on a plane for everybody going to or from the camp and a warm place to spend the night while they are here.


How do we set up an ice camp, Step one - decide when the camp will be.  The best time for an ice camp is the spring.  The ice is still firmly packed from the long winter’s freeze which makes things much safer for those of us who are going to live on it.  We could try to do an ice camp in the fall when the ice starts to freeze up.  But if we guessed wrong and started too early, the ice might get loose again and dump the entire ice camp in the ocean.  Spring is better.


Step two was to pick out a good, thick, stable piece of ice to put the camp on with an adjacent stretch of relatively flat ice that we could use for a runway - yes, we land our planes right on the ice.  For this part, we needed an expert set of eyes to find this ideal piece of ice for us.  Those eyes belong to our Camp Manager, Fred Karig from APL/UW.  Fred has been doing ice camps here in the Arctic for 35 years and really knows what he’s doing.


The search began on March 1st.  Two airplanes were used - a lightweight Cessna that Fred was riding in and one of the larger Cessna Grand Caravans that we’re using for daily ice camp transport.  They flew north together out of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.  Reports that the thick ice was disappearing from this part of the Arctic made us think that we’d have to go 250 or maybe even 300 nautical miles from shore before we found a good site.  Fortunately, right about where we’ve put camps in the past, Fred spotted a good candidate.  His plan landed and it looked even better from the ground (well, from the ice) than it did from the air.  He called for Barry Campbell in the other plane to land and together they explored the area.


The camp floe was about a mile in diameter and, it turns out, over 8 feet thick.  Right next door, the candidate runway was plenty long and 4 foot thick.  And lots of good areas nearby to surface the submarines through.  Perfect.  They got the GPS position of the floe then flew back to Prudhoe Bay with the good news.


The next day, Fred returned with his team to start building the camp.  Like Fred, this team from APL/UW - Fran Olson, Pat McKeown, and Kevin Parkhurst - all have years of experience in the Arctic.  Everything to build the camp had to come out by airplane.  Even when it grows in flat sheets, ice always has small irregularities that could make landing and takeoff difficult.  Which means that, first, they had to smooth out the runway.  This occupied the first couple days.  But with the runway smoothed and 4 or 5 flight possible each day, they next had to build enough of the camp that they could stay out on the ice overnight - being able to live at the build site allowed them to get a lot more work done each day than having to commute from Deadhorse.




A Good Spot for an Ice Camp


The living huts, or “hooches” are built from pre-fabricated sections of wood.  Each section is two pieces of ¾ inch plywood with insulation in between.  Building a hut is far more than just putting up the shell - each is provided with 3 double bunk beds and a table, all assembled at the site.   And each is equipped with an oil-fired heater and a fan to circulate the heat.  Not luxurious but a lot of work when everything has to be put together in temperatures of -45ºF with 30 knot winds.


With each day bringing a little more daylight, the camp steadily took shape.  Building more living hooches meant we could send out a larger workforce, including SK1 Urbano Orozco from Submarine Development Squadron Five Detachment San Diego and MM3 Robert Baker from Submarine Squadron Eleven, along with ASL’s Travis Major.  This, in turn, allowed them to start building and equipping the all-important mess hall and, after that, the Command Hut where the operations will be run from.



APL/UW, ASL, & Navy Sailors Building APLIS


Getting all of this equipment to the camp required a lot of flights.  We have two aircraft working for us.  The Cessna Grand Caravan I mentioned before flown by Shawn Shoultys of Wright Air Services in Fairbanks, Alaska.  This type of aircraft is used by commuter airlines throughout the world.  With its seats removed, it can carry about a ton of cargo.  For additional cargo capacity, we’ve also leased a Casa.  This plane, flown by Bob Eisele from Bighorn Airways in Sheridan, Wyoming, is rear-loaded and regularly hauls about a ton ad a half of cargo on each trip to the camp.  Between them, they’ve been making five round trips every day.  Once at the camp, everything has to be unloaded by hand then hauled to the build site behind snowmobiles.



Our Casa


The camp is now ready for moving in and it’s taken a lot of work to get it built.  Everyone on the ice and both of our pilots have put in many long, cold days to get us this far.  The work isn’t done, though.  We’ve got just two days to get our equipment set up and tested before the first submarine arrives.  We’ll be ready.


I’ve mentioned our logistics base several times, using both the names Prudhoe Bay and Deadhorse.  Tomorrow, I’ll talk more about that part of our ice camp team and clear up (maybe) any confusion about where I’m talking about.


Jeff Gossett

Arctic Submarine Laboratory