View From Sondrestrom Control Tower - 1985
Today hundreds, if not several thousands, of visitors to Greenland arrive at a west coast airport called, "Kangerlussuaq," which is the Greenlandic word for "long fjord." Danes call this place "Sondre Stromfjord" which translates into English as "South Stormyfjord." Until 30 September 1992, the date Danish government assumed authority for the join military/civilian airport, the US Air Force called it "Sondrestrom Air Base, Greenland."
Upon arrival and when hiking around the airport three features on the horizon grab your attention, "Blackridge," "Mount Hassel," and "the air traffic control tower."
I worked as a Sondy US Air Force air traffic controller from May 1983 until October 1986. Normally US Air Force personnel were assigned to Thule, or Sondy, for only one year. I had been stationed at Thule in 1980 - 1981, became hooked on Greenland, and Danish people, and so returned to Greenland in 1983.
At the time, I really never gave working in the control tower much thought other than I enjoyed all aspects of aviation and was fortunate to become a controller. During pilot training aspiring pilots take a tour of the control tower at their particular airport. However, non- aviation people really don't know exactly what happens in an air traffic control tower. Contrary to popular belief we were not constantly looking out the windows with binoculars!
Air traffic control towers are always placed, on an airport, at a location providing the best view of the runways and taxiways. At Sondy we also have a great view of "Blackridge," along with a good view of the SAS Hotel.
Before today's modern jet age aircraft had shorter flight ranges. Those short range military, private, and commercial aircraft had to cross the Atlantic Ocean in several short hops. Departing the United States going east to Europe aircraft would refuel in Goose Bay, Labrador, in western Greenland, hop across the ice cap to eastern Greenland, to Iceland, to the Faeroe Islands, to Britain, western Norway, or Denmark.
At Sondy, during the winter months, most air traffic was the SAS flight, three times a week from Copenhagen, a Greenland Air DeHavilland (DASH-7 or DASH-8) from Nuuk, or several Greenland Air helicopter flights from Holsteinborg. Otherwise, it was fairly boring in the tower. We had plenty of time to stare out the windows and reflect … each had their own reflections.
However, since there were no civilian hangars at Sondrestrom the Greenland Air aircraft stayed in hangars in the villages ….until the Copenhagen SAS flight was inbound to Sondy! Then, it would get very interesting!
The Greenland Air pilots wanted to land just a few minutes before the SAS flight and get their parking space on the small ramp in front of the SAS Hotel. The village passengers, on Greenland Air, could then run inside the SAS Hotel/Terminal and check in for the return SAS flight to Copenhagen.
The Copenhagen SAS passengers, upon landing, would have an empty Greenland Air helicopter or fixed wing aircraft ready to return them to the village or maybe their final destination was Sondrestrom. That was enjoyable working out those arrivals and departures.
Summer at Sondy was a different story. We still had those three-times-a-week Copenhagen SAS flights and the Greenland Air aircraft trying to arrive all at once, now there were military flights traveling back and forth across the Atlantic.
Tower controllers become very familiar with other airport support people, such as the airport fire fighters (many a good time drinking Karlsberg or Tuborg was had at the clubs or private dormitory parties), and the base operations dispatchers.
Every telephone conversation, and radio transmission, is recorded (just in case of an aircraft accident) to review the conversations in the event we could improve services. At the end of all telephone conversations we were required to end with your "operating initials." My phone conversations ended with "AH" (for Andy Hutzel, not Adolph Hitler as my wife sometimes believes).
Last fall, October 2007, I received an email from a Danish base operator, "LM," Lars Malmquist, now working as an SAS dispatcher in Copenhagen…small world.
During one summer we had the entire air traffic control tower cab renovated. What happens when the tower cab in unusable…move to a "mobile tower." We had a big party the day we could return to operations from the old/new tower.
One memory I'll always have of the "View from Sondy Tower" is that of the "Ravens" perched on the rails.
Apparently, they also liked the "View from Sondy Tower!"