Frobisher Bay Air Base
|Type||Air Force Station|
Frobisher Bay Air Base is a former United States Air Force facility adjacent to the town of Iqaluit, Nunavut (formerly Frobisher Bay, Northwest Territories); 1,299 mi (2,091 km) north of Ottawa, Ontario. It was closed in 1963 and became a civilian airport Frobisher Bay Airport (Iqaluit Airport since 1987).
During late July 1941, a United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) team headed by Captain Elliott Roosevelt investigated the Frobisher Bay region for a potential airport for use in trans-Atlantic air traffic. Roosevelt's report designated a marginal site at Cape Rammelsberg for later construction. In mid-October, trawlers Lark, Polarbjoern, and Selis reached the vicinity, but owing to inaccurate charts (dating from the 1865 expedition of Charles Francis Hall) could not find the Roosevelt site. Instead, an eight-man crew commanded by USAAF Captain John T. Crowell was offloaded on a smaller island "about eight miles southeast of the headland Captain Roosevelt had recommended."1 They operated a weather/radio station over the winter. The expedition reported that "this island is reported to be some 400 feet high and very level on top providing a natural runway of more than a mile in length." The ships left on 5 November.2
When the station relief and base construction expedition arrived next July, both the Crowell and Roosevelt sites were rejected in favor of a level meadow discovered along the Sylvia Grinnell River on mainland Baffin Island. On 30 July, ships Polaris and Effie M. Morrissey anchored in what was then called Koojesse Inlet and began surveying the area: "The terrain was excellent, with level ground extending nearly the entire 6,000 feet needed for an ample runway...The harbor, readily accessible from the bay, offered a good anchorage for ships of any size that would come in."3 The expedition consisted further of the USCGC Bear, equipped with a seaplane, the transports Fairfax and Eleanor and some smaller vessels. Having offloaded the airport construction crews and materials, the expedition left at the end of September.
By summer of 1943, the airbase at Koojesse Inlet had "grown to look like a populous village" and was in use by many aircraft.4 It was designated Crystal II and referred to as Chaplet in coded communications. It was one of three "Crystal" weather sites in the Canadian Arctic Region, Fort Chimo (now Kuujjuaq), Quebec being "Crystal I", and a station on Padloping Island being "Crystal III". A detachment of the 8th Weather Squadron, Air Transport Command (ATC) took up residence at the station on 1 October 1942.5 The initial mission of the Crystal sites was to provide long-range weather information to the combat forces then building up in the United Kingdom.
As part of the Crimson East air route network, the airfield at Crystal II was referred to by USAAF Air Transport Command as ATC Station #10.6 It was intended to be a transport hub between the Eastern Route, which originated at Presque Isle Army Airfield, Maine and the Central Route, which originated at Romulus Army Airfield (Detroit Airport), Michigan. The original plan, briefed by Captain Roosevelt to USAAF Chief Henry "Hap" Arnold and others at the Argentia summit in August 1941, called for Frobisher Bay to be a node in a northern alternate air route, running from Churchill, Manitoba via Southampton Island over Frobisher to Bluie West Eight and Bluie East Two in Greenland, rejoining the main route in Iceland.7 The later success of the main air route via Bluie West One and the spring 1943 victory in the Battle of the Atlantic led to cancelation of the Crimson project in late 1943, and the associated airfields were reduced to weather, communications, and logistics duties.8
The use of Frobisher Bay declined with the end of World War II, with jurisdiction of the facility being transferred to Military Air Transport Service (MATS) in 1948, under its Air Weather Service (ARS). A small detachment of communications personnel of the 135th Army Airways Communications Service Squadron remained manning a communications station, along with the cadre of the original 8th Weather Squadron. The airfield remained open for use by transient aircraft and for MATS to airlift supplies and equipment to the site. During the recovery of the crew of the downed B-29, Kee Bird in 1947, aircraft were flown to Crystal II to assist in the rescue, if needed. The station was inactivated on 1 September 1950.910
The advantages of having airfields in the high latitudes of North America was realized with the advent of the Cold War and the possibility of the Soviet Union using great circle routes over the Arctic to send manned bombers to attack the United States. Northeast Air Command reactivated the base on 1 October 1951 and established the 6603d Air Base Wing as the host unit under the 64th Air Division. Under USAF control, the former Crystal II base became known as Frobisher Bay Air Base.
Strategic Air Command (SAC) became a major tenant organization at Frobisher AB. It was used by SAC to support "Project Nanook", the ongoing strategic reconnaissance mission over the Arctic to map the region and develop navigation routes for SAC to transit the Arctic Region in the event active hostilities erupted. Very long range reconnaissance aircraft (primarily RB-29s) would use Frobisher as a refueling stop and as an emergency airfield. The facilities at Crystal II were also used during the construction of Thule Air Base, Greenland. The MATS Air/Sea Rescue Service was also assigned to Frobisher Bay AB as a tenant organization, with the 54th Air Rescue Squadron operating from the base.
In the early 1950s, plans for the building of the Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line), a system of early warning radar stations in the high latitudes of North America were being developed. A radar station was built by the United States at Frobisher Bay beginning in 1953 , with the Northeast Air Command (NEAC) activating the 926th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron at a radar site approximately a mile to the north of the airfield and station complex. The radar site operated the following radars:
As a GCI base, the 926th's role was to guide interceptor aircraft toward unidentified intruders picked up on the unit's radar scopes. These interceptors were assigned to the 64th Air Division at Goose AFB, Labrador.
In 1954, an agreement between the United States and Canada led to the formal agreement to construct the DEW Line, and survey crews used Frobisher Bay to survey sites for the radar stations across the Canadian Arctic from Frobisher Bay to the Alaska/Yukon and east into Greenland. The United States Army Corps of Engineers deployed the 823rd Engineer Aviation Battalion to the base in 1954 to support the project.
Frobisher Bay AB became an important staging point, as supplies and equipment for the construction of the DEW Line were shipped via naval transport ships to the port facilities at the base. Large numbers of MATS transport aircraft brought essential equipment and personnel to the base, which was used as a support facility. At one time Frobisher Bay AB saw 300 aircraft movements a day. Once the DEW Line opened in 1957 the number of aircraft using the base subsided and a second hiatus visited Frobisher Bay. A detachment of the ADC 4601st Support Group from Paramus, New Jersey operated from the base supporting the numerous DEW line stations.
The development of aerial refueling with the introduction of the KC-97 Stratotanker and also the opening of the large runway at Thule AB for use by intercontinental bombers such as the B-36 and B-47 (neither of which could use the relatively short runway at Frobisher Bay) led SAC to close its facilities in 1953.
In 1957 NEAC was inactivated and Air Defense Command (AD) assumed jurisdiction of the facility. The 4733d Air Defense Group took over as host unit from the NEAC 6603d ABW, including control of the 926th AC&W Squadron. A detachment from the SAC 4082d Strategic Wing from Goose AFB, Labrador, also took up station at Frobisher Bay AB
With the completion of DEW line construction, Frobisher Bay became something of a backwater, with SAC transient aircraft using the base for staging KC-97 tankers and also using it for tactical airlift operations to and from its bases in Greenland. MATS cargo flights used the airfield for transshipments of equipment and supplies, also logistically supporting the base and personnel transport, (usually operated by 1607th Air Transport Wing C-124 Globemaster IIs from Dover Air Force Base). The 4733d ADG was downgraded, being replaced by the 4085th Air Base Squadron on 1 May 1958 to manage support issues at the base.
Most of the ADC functions at Frobisher Bay Air Base were taken over by the Goose Air Defense Sector at Goose AB on 1 April 1960. ADC inactivated the radar station on 1 November 1961, ending the surveillance mission of the base. The facility was closed by SAC in 1963, shifting its operations to Thule AB.
When the USAF closed its base in 1963, Frobisher Bay Airport ( , Iqaluit Airport since 1987) continued as a commercial/civilian airport.
- A Handbook of Aerospace Defense Organization 1946–1980, by Lloyd H. Cornett and Mildred W. Johnson, Office of History, Aerospace Defense Center, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado
- Winkler, David F. (1997), Searching the skies: the legacy of the United States Cold War defense radar program. Prepared for United States Air Force Headquarters Air Combat Command.
- Forbes, Alexander: Quest for a Northern Air Route. Harvard College, 1953.
- Hansen, Chris: Enfant Terrible: The Times and Schemes of General Elliott Roosevelt. Able Baker, Tucson, 2012
- Eno, Robert: Crystal II: The Origin of Iqaluit. Arctic magazine.
- Carlson, William: Lifelines through the Arctic. Duell, Sloan, Pierce, New York, 1962.
- C. J. Hubbard: Report on Crystal Force Expedition, with preliminary mention of Bluie West 8 and Bluie East 2. Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA), Maxwell AFB, Alabama.