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Thule Air Base Airport

Thule Air Base

Thule Air Base Airport
Air Force Space Command

Thule Air Base Airport
Thule Air Base
Airport type Military: Air Force Base
Operator U.S. Air Force
Location Thule (formerly Pituffik), Greenland
Occupants 821st Air Base Group
Elevation AMSL 251 ft / 77 m
Coordinates 76°31′52″N 068°42′12″W / 76.53111°N 68.70333°W / 76.53111; -68.70333 (Thule Air Base)Coordinates: 76°31′52″N 068°42′12″W / 76.53111°N 68.70333°W / 76.53111; -68.70333 (Thule Air Base)
Website 821st Air Base Group
Direction Length Surface
m ft
08T/26T 3,047 9,997 Asphalt
Source: Danish AIS

Thule Air Base or Thule Air Base/Pituffik Airport (IATA: THU, ICAO: BGTL), 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. Thule is an unincorporated enclave within Qaasuitsup municipality in northern Greenland. 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

  • Northeast Air Command, July 1, 1951
  • Strategic Air Command
    Eighth Air Force, April 1, 1957 – July 1, 1960
  • Air Defense (Redesignated Aerospace Defense) Command 15 January 1968), July 1, 1960
  • Strategic Air Command, December 1, 1979
  • Air Force Space Command, October 1, 1982 – present

Major units assigned

Source for major commands and major units assigned:


Map of Greenland
Map of Greenland

The first military installations at Thule were constructed just after the beginning of World War II, after the US Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Danish Ambassador Henrik Kauffmann signed The Agreement relating to the Defense of Greenland in Washington on April 9, 1941. President Roosevelt approved it on June 7, 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 Narsarsuaq Airport (Bluie West-1), Sondrestrom Air Base (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 an edge over the Germans in battle planning and was of great value in the preparation of Operation Overlord.

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. Thule became a key point in the whole American military strategy. Strategic Air Command (SAC) 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 NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), 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 Naval Station Norfolk. 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.


Reconnaissance route from Thule AB to Soviet Union.
Reconnaissance route from Thule AB to Soviet Union.

Originally established as a 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.

Thule Air Base

Thule Air Base - Thule 1951, amerikanske skibe under operation Blue Jay
Click to enlarge

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 (−46 °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 northeast Greenland. The B-47 averaged ten hours and 4,500 km (2,800 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 as Strategic Air Command to Soviet Anti-Air Defense.

In 1959, the airbase was the main staging point for the construction of Camp Century, some 150 mi (240 km) from the base. Carved into the ice, Camp Century was a scientific research base. Powered by a nuclear reactor, the camp operated from 1959 until 1967.


BMEWS, shown in red
BMEWS, shown in red

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 is also the location where the fastest sea level surface wind speed in the world was measured when a peak speed of 333 kilometres per hour (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

Thule Air Base control tower, 1989.
Thule Air Base control tower, 1989.

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 nuclear 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. 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.

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. 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. 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.


1989 Aerial view
1989 Aerial view

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 3,047 by 42 m (9,997 by 138 ft) asphalt runway and 2,600 U.S. and international flights per year.

At Northmountain there is a 378 m (1,240 ft) 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.

A delegation from NATO's Parliamentary Assembly visited Thule in early September 2010 and were told by the base commander that, at that time (summer), approximately 600 personnel were serving at Thule, a mix of mostly U.S. and Danish active duty personnel and contractors.

There is only a brief period each year in the summer when sea ice thins sufficiently to send supply ships to the base. The US sends one heavy supply ship each summer in what is called Operation Pacer Goose.

Airlines and destinations

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

There are also charters to Thule Air Base.


Thule Air Base

Thule Air Base - Douglas DC-8 lander på Thule Air Base
Click to enlarge


The above content comes from Wikipedia and is published under free licenses – click here to read more.

General Info
Country Greenland
Latitude 76.531203
76° 31' 52.33" N
Longitude -68.703161
068° 42' 11.38" W
Elevation 251 feet
77 meters
Type Military
Magnetic Variation 055° W (01/06)
Beacon Yes
Operating Agency U.S.AIR FORCE

Opr 1200-2000Z++ Mon-Fri, Clsd Sat, Sun and US hol.
BASE OPS 131.1
GND 119.9
CLNC DEL 119.9
APP 134.1
100 NM
Communications Remarks
TWR All acft ctc Base Ops prior to engine start. All acft ctc Thule ATC OT Base Ops when TWR closed to request engine start.

ID Dimensions Surface PCN ILS
08T/26T 9997 x 140 feet
3047 x 43 meters

Type ID Name Channel Freq Distance From Field Bearing From Navaid
VORTAC THT THULE 047X 111 6.5 NM 320.4

Fuel JP-8, SemiKeroscene MIL Spec T-83133, without icing inhibitor

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The content above was published at in 2010.
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