Thule Air Base, Greenland

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If you have corrections or more information on Thule, please email to Don at

Read about the History of Thule

Thule Air Base 1973

Thule is the U.S. Armed Forces' northernmost installation, located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Thule's arctic environment offers some of the most spectacular scenery found anywhere in the world, including majestic icebergs in the North Star Bay, the massive polar ice cap, and Wolstenholme Fjord, the only place on earth where three active glaciers join together.

Greenland is “Kalaallit Nunaat” in the Inuit language. It is a country of the Kingdom of Denmark and is the largest island in the world. “Thule” is from the Latin word with the same spelling meaning “northernmost part of the inhabitable world.” Greenland covers nearly 840,000 square miles, more than 80 percent is covered either by the ice cap or small glaciers. According to scientific measurements, the greatest thickness of the ice cap is more than 16,000 feet (10,600 ft above sea level and another 6,000 feet below sea level). To a depth of about 60 feet, the cap is comprised of compressed snow, the top layers are dry and crusty, creating fine, powdered snow.

The land is comprised of tundra. The permafrost level is between 6-12". This dictates that buildings be constructed off the ground, or have air corridors separating the buildings from the ground. Otherwise the heat from inside the buildings melts the permafrost, and the buildings sink – a lesson learned the hard way during the life of Thule AB.Thule is a land of contrasts. The perimeter of Greenland consists mainly of mountains. Glaciers flow down these mountains through deep valleys to the sea. The highest peaks, the Gunnbjorn mountains, on the eastern coasts of the island rise over 12,000 feet. The Thule Defense Area, created by an agreement signed 27 April 1951, covers approximately 287 square miles, including Dundas Mountain and Village.

Thule is located in a coastal valley approximately four miles from the entrance of North Star Bay on Greenland's west coast. The bay is part of Baffin Bay which extends to the southern part of Ellesmere Island 140 miles west of Thule. The base is built on a broad and rather flat glacial valley floor between two bedrock ridges, North and South Mountains. The valley slopes gently to the east-southeast until it meets an ice cap, the Great Land Glacier, about 10 miles inland.

Thule is locked in by ice 9 months out of the year. Each summer an American or Canadian ship breaks up the ice in North Star Bay and clears the way for the American, Canadian, and Danish cargo ships to bring in the annual resupply during the “port season.” The bay will be frozen again by mid-October.

There is no “local town.” The closest Inuit (native Eskimo) village, Qaanaaq, is 65 miles away. There is no “off-base” except for the bay, the ice cap, and what appears to be thousands of miles of rocks.

The Thule area is barren most of the year; although from June to September, the snow melts and arctic tundra plant life such as poppies, cotton, mosses, and a variety of colorful flowers bloom. The extremely cold climate means a limited variety of wild animals. Around the base you are likely to see arctic fox and hares and several varieties of birds in the summer time. Polar bears, caribou, seals, musk ox, and perigrine falcons also inhabit the area. In southern Greenland, vegetation and wildlife are more varied and abundant.

We do not have a detailed history of helicopters at Thule, we would be happy to have additional information from anyone who has it. Send to don at or KV at

This site is under construction and probably will be for several months, I have additional information that I will be adding as I get time.

H-5, Thule, Greenland, 1949

These H-5 and H-19 pictures are from the files of Maj. Scott Johnson (deceased), courtesy of his wife, Wanda. Submitted by KV Hall

H-5 Rescue Hoist
Training, Thule, 1949

H-5 Thule

H-5 Thule 1950

Maintenance, Thule 1950

H-19 Thule AB 1950

The following comments and photos are from Bob Adams

My first operational assignment was Thule, starting in April 1959 if I remember it right. We flew H-21s and got pretty good performance out of them in the cold weather. The primary weather problem was unexpected wind off the ice cap, called phases. They frequently came unannounced and Thule went zero zero in a hurry.  

The ice cap was a problem in white out conditions. We had no radar altimeters and of course the barometric alt. was of limited value. The cap slowly went from a few hundred feet to about 10,000 above sea level, if I remember. We flew up to Site 2, the army research site, delivering mail and stuff. I think it was around 8,000 ft.


Harry Dewald flew into the cap on one of those missions, killing himself, his copilot, his crew chief and 4 or 5 others. He and I had flown up to Site Two to pick up a C-54 crew that had run into the cap. They were recovered by an army swing train. Harry and I had an uneventful engine failure departing the site. He returned to Thule by L-20, picked up another H-21 and crew, and "bought it" on the way back. He was turning back to Thule because of a worsening whiteout, and touched down rolling out of his 180 degree turn, or so the accident board said. I was now the remaining helicopter pilot, and stuck at Site Two for the next 10 days due to weather, then rode a Weazle back to Thule averaging 4 miles an hour. Look at the picture. You can imagine what it was like for the four of us on the 62 hour trip. I didn't complain. I could have been with Harry.


Ed Sayer came up from Goose Bay to replace Harry. Bob Brubaker and Hal Moody arrived shortly thereafter. Bob loaned me his trunk for my trip back to the states. I still have it stocked with old love letters exchanged that year.


I rotated out the next spring to marry Sue Chandler at the Randolph AFB chapel five days after hitting the states. We're still married, both in good health, have five kids and 12 grand kids, one of whom we picked up in China a year ago last spring.




Bob Adams

HH-43Bs in Thule Hangar
Submitted by Covey Campbell

In 1973, there were two HH-3E helicopters assigned to Det. 4 of the 39th ARRW

Besides the Rescue mission, Det. 4 routinely flew passengers and cargo to the outlying Eskimo villages. This is the runway at Kanaq, the central Danish Eskimo village.

Sunset over Mt. Dundas

Base Headquaters

High Roof Dorm

Flat Roof Dorm

S-62 from Coast Guard Icebreaker

Arctic Fox

Arctic Hare

Christmas Tree Pole at Headquarters

Like everywhere else, a helicopter attracts kids.

Thule Pier

Dog Sled races on the ice in the bay

Eskimo Dog Sled – notice the spread configuration. Since the sleds run on the ice most of the time, they don't need the dogs to run in single file to break track through the snow

Polar Bear pants. It is a big honor to have Polar Bear clothing.

Building igloos for survival.

Trench shelters

Central Danish Eskimo village at Kanaq.

Eskimo House

Birds prepared for food

Narwhal Tusk at Kanaq Trading Post

One of the missions for Det 3 was to carry Julemand (Santa Claus) to the remote Eskimo Villages.


Scientific Research Post on remote island west of Thule

Scientists assigned to Post

During our orientation briefing, we were shown a very interesting film on Camp Century, an Army base built under the ice about 100 miles up on the Ice Cap.

See to read about Camp Century.

Also Click Here to read more abut Camp Century.