First opened in 1958 as Alert Wireless Station, call sign VDH, the station's
name changed to CFS (Canadian Forces Station) Alert as a result of
Unification and it became a part of the Canadian Forces Supplementary Radio
The station's mission is to maintain signals intelligence collection and geolocation facilities in support of the Canadian cryptologic program; to maintain radio frequency direction finding facilities in support of search and rescue (SAR) and other programs; and to provide support services to other organizations as directed. During the Cold War, Alert was a key asset in the UKUSA network of SIGINT collection stations.
The main feature of the Alert crest is the head of a muskox, a suitably northern animal. Behind the muskox is a background of black and yellow, signifying the periods of total darkness and total sunlight experienced at Alert. Below are two peaks denoting the two mountains to the south, Crystal Mountain and Mount Pullen, between which the sun rises in March. Behind them are the white peaks of the Western Mountains. Below the peaks, a blue band between two white wavy lines signifies the Lincoln Sea and the water and ice pack surrounding Ellesmere Island. The crest is encircled by a wreath of gold maple leaves and with the royal crown of Queen Elizabeth II, Sovereign of Canada, on top. On a banner below the crest is the motto "Inuit Nunangata Ungata" which translates in English to "The Land Beyond the Land of the People," the age old and very apt Inuit description of Canada's northern Arctic region. In 1983 the English translation of Alert's motto was changed from "Beyond the Eskimo Land" to "Beyond the Inuit Land." (Inuit Nunangata Ungata)
LOCATION AND ENVIRONMENT
CFS Alert, Nunavut is the most northern permanently inhabited settlement in the world. It is situated on the northeastern tip of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic, approximately 817 km from the geographic North Pole at coordinates 82°28' N, 62°30' W.
The most noticeable difference in Alert's environment compared to southern Canada is periods of full daylight and full darkness, lower temperatures and lower annual precipitation. From April 8 to September 5, there is no night time. The sun rises to approximately 30 degrees above the horizon at noon and dips to 16 degrees above the horizon at midnight. From October 10 to March 1, there is no direct sunlight. Between these periods, there are both nights and days of varied duration.
The terrain in the immediate area is steeply rolling. The land here is frozen for almost ten months of the year so the vegetation which is found here consists of plants that can photosynthesize quickly during the short summer so they will be able to survive during the cold, harsh winter. Vegetation is found mostly in moist areas of the barren land. Along with the steep rolling terrain, it is common to come upon steep ravines and high cliffs. Plateaus at a high elevation in the Alert area are typical physical features.
The total lack of solar heating during the winter months results in severely cold weather. In February, temperatures in the neighbourhood of -40 °C can be normal. At this low temperature, a cup of hot water tossed into the air quickly vapourized into millions of ice crystals!
|Alert is situated at the very top of Ellesmere Island. Of strategic importance to Alert is the small weather station at Eureka. A six-station UHF repeater chain between Alert and Eureka provides the terrestrial portion of the satellite link to Ottawa. (Map courtesy Maps.com)|
Alert was named after a British ship, HMS Alert, which wintered off Cape Sheridan, 9.7 km east of the present station in 1875-76. It was first settled in the early 1950's as a weather station of the Joint Arctic Weather Station (JAWS) system and operated by the RCAF. In summer of 1950, an RCAF Lancaster crashed during the establishment of the JAWS weather station when the parachute for resupplies being air dropped became entangled on the tail of the aircraft. All 9 crew members were killed and are buried west of the airstrip.
The men killed in the Lancaster crash weren't all RCAF personnel. One was Charles Hubbard, Chief of Arctic Section, US Weather Bureau and one was a "hitch-hiker" who came along to see the sights. After the accident, rules with respect to unauthorized passengers in RCAF aircraft were tightened up, to the annoyance of associated civilian personnel.
Nine graves mark the burial spot in front of a memorial to the Lancaster
crew killed when a parachute tangled in the tail and caused a crash landing during a resupply attempt in 1950. (Photo by Alex Urosevic -- Toronto Sun)
During the Cold War, Alert was strategically important because of its proximity to the Soviet Union. It was the closest point in North America to many Russian military installations. The Soviets used the Arctic for naval bases and missile testing, giving them first-strike capability against North America. Alert was near enough to pick up radio communications between the bases and submarines, ships and aircraft. In fact, Alert is closer to Moscow than it is to Ottawa. The possibilities of using the site for intercepting radio signals warranted a military presence.
In 1956, when consideration was being given to a listening post in the high Arctic, there were already two "experimental" stations in existence - Resolute Bay, NWT (now Nunavut) and Alert. Resolute Bay was referred to as "Alto Near" and Alert was "Alto Far". In September 1958, Resolute was closed down and Alert became the high Arctic station operated by the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals (RCCS). Five additional buildings were constructed in addition to the existing structures built in 1956 - a mess, 3 barracks/accommodations buildings, a power house and vehicle maintenance building. The operations building housed the radio intercept and cryptographic equipment. Initially, 27 men were posted to Alert at any one time. On the technical side, this consisted of 1 Chief Radio and Telegraph operator, 18 radio and telegraph operators, 1 radio equipment technician plus 1 teletype and cipher technician. A tour of duty at Alert was normally six months in duration back then but today it can vary from 3 to 6 months. The first major expansion of the Alert Wireless Station occurred in the summer of 1959. Although the Canadian Army continued to administer the station it was to be manned by personnel from the Army, the Navy and the Air Force until the RCCS could man it on their own. Back then it cost nearly $1 million per annum to operate the station. The expansion program, completed in the summer of 1959, included the installation of the extensive antenna field 4 km south of Alert at the transmitter site.
The book "Beyond the Inuit Lands" outlines some of the problems experienced at the station."Throughout the 1960s the role of Alert increased and the station continued to expand. Alert was providing information to the Canadian Communication Research Programme of the National Research Council (NRC) and their requirements continued to grow. Problems developed as expansion continued in the absence of an over-all plan for the station. For example, the office for the Operations Officer of 1960 had no real privacy, only an open comer in a wing of the Ops Building, in spite of the highly confidential nature of his duties.By 1966, the station was still manned by the RCN, Army and RCAF in the proportion 7-9-4 1..On February 1, 1968 the Unification of the RCN, RCAF and Canadian Army to form the Canadian Armed Forces caused Alert Wireless change its name to Canadian Forces Station Alert (CFS Alert). Now , its personnel were no longer drawn from the air force or navy, but rather from the Canadian Forces Supplementary System.
Increased work loads in January 1961 brought a request for another crypto operator. The request was cancelled, however, when the amount of enciphered traffic sent from Alert was reduced by 25%. A radical change in the reports required by NRC, however, increased enciphered traffic within months and an additional operator was again requested. This would allow two operators on some shifts.
As the Alert Wireless Station was a part of the Canadian Communication Research Programme, information gathered at Alert had to be passed quickly to the processing center in Ottawa for action by radio link and by mail or courier service. Since the radio link could not handle all the output from Alert in the format required, the weekly RCAF service flights provided a shuttle service which met the need. Thus when the RCAF instituted a reduction to only two flights per month in 1962, the Director of Signals (Army) was concerned, to say the least, and asked that the weekly service be restored.
The Director of the Communications Branch, National Research Council (CBNRC) pointed out that the quality of the product from Alert was largely influenced by the frequency of mail service. The performance of Alert until then had met expectations and a continuation of the timely and efficient operations at Alert was considered vital in meeting joint Canadian, United Kingdom, and United States requirements. Not only was mail the only method for forwarding the total station product to CBNRC for study, but it was also the only way to send to Alert the bulky support information from CBNRC required for optimum operation. The Director, too, felt that flights only every two weeks would have an adverse effect on Alert's operations."
A new communications center, Building 35, was constructed in the summer of 1969 as part of the renovations to the Operations Building. The communication facilities were moved to the new center in October. Fire walls were built the following summer, dividing the building into three independent sections. With the construction of the new Operations Building, Polaris Hall, in 1980, Operations expanded to cover two floors: technical maintenance on the ground floor and the operators on the upper floor.
On October 30, 1991 an AIRCOM CC-130 Hercules transport aircraft flying to Alert from Edmonton, Alberta via Thule, Greenland, was on final approach to the airstrip. The pilot apparently was flying by Visual Flight Rules instead of Instrument Flight Rules. The aircraft crashed 16 km (9.9 miles) short of the runway, killing 5 of the 18 passengers and crew. Subsequent rescue efforts by personnel from CFS Alert, USAF personnel from Thule, and CF personnel from bases in southern Canada, were hampered by a blizzard and local terrain. The crash investigation recommended all CC-130s be retrofitted with ground proximity detectors. The crash and rescue efforts provided the plot for a film called "Ordeal in the Arctic."
At its peak, CFS Alert had upwards of 215 personnel posted at any one time. The station became a key asset in the global ECHELON network of the US-UK-ANZAC intelligence sharing alliance, with Alert being privy to many secret Soviet communications regarding land based and sea based ICBM test launches and many operational military deployments.
LIFE AT THE STATION IN THE PAST
Alert is still a "hardship" post. No family members are permitted to live at the station. Prior to the station's downsizing in 1997, Communicator Research (291) operators were virtually guaranteed to serve a tour at Alert every four years. Many Communicator Research operators have spent a total of five years in Alert during their military career.
One individual who served in Alert with the RCN adds another perspective to hardship aspect of the posting. "Life in Alert was always difficult and the environment inhospitable, but that station always had the advantage of weekly mail and supply aircraft. Places like Aklavik and Frobisher endured much harsher conditions and long periods of deprivation of basic supplies and there never was any acknowledgment by the authorities. Mind you, the sailors didn't do much complaining, but to go extended periods without any physical contact with “the outside” was something the personnel in Alert did not have to endure. The annual freeze up period of the Mackenzie River and the corresponding breakup period in the spring meant no mail and no aircraft for extended periods. Supplies in Aklavik came once per year by barge and personnel had to survive on that until the following year - meat, eggs, toilet paper; you name it.
In Aklavik, because dependents accompanied married personnel, there was no consideration given to the prolonged isolation, the extended periods of no contact with the South, and the enforced existence in an environment that did not take into consideration the needs of men in their early 20's who were forbidden to “fraternize” with the “native” population. Another example was Naval Radio Station Padloping Island. It was a two year tour, abysmal living conditions and only the occasional drop by RCAF overflights.
Alert had none of this. In later years, an aircraft came in at least once a week. Fresh supplies were always on hand. Mail was always no more than a week away. The station had its problem areas to be sure - like no women in our day and martinet-like army discipline. But they didn't have nearly the hardship we endured in the Arctic. Personnel also got a medal for their time in Alert. We did two and three year postings in the Western Arctic and the powers in Ottawa didn't acknowledge the contribution. It was simply "time in".
It is hoped, that in time, NDHQ recognizes the sacrifices made by RCN personnel in the SIGINT stations in Churchill, Frobisher, Chimo, Aklavik and Inuvik, the weather station at Padloping Island, and the RCCS personnel in the NWT&Y stations in the Western Arctic, and make at least a token effort towards recognizing and appreciating what was done for Canada in those bleak years. We are under no illusions that their service will ever be acknowledged or recognized. Alert was the squeaky wheel that got the grease".
Lynn Wortman served at Alert in 1960-61. He provides this snippet about life at the station. "Working conditions were excellent, but the social life was pretty boring. We had one ping pong table, one shuffle board and many tape recorders with miles of tape from the old radio program called Rawhide. We used to get one movie a week, if we were lucky. One day, we ran out of beer and cigarettes. It was over a month before the folks in resupply decided to send replenishments. Funny thing, we lost 5 or 6 cases of beer on the way from the airfield to the base. Those were the good old days".
Earle Smith also remembers life at the base. "I want to point out that during the first six months of operations in 1957-58 there was no such thing as regular RCAF aircraft bringing in supplies. Many C-119's and North Stars were often on runs overseas in support of UN operations so we knew we wouldn't get much from them. USAF MATS flights, operating on a somewhat irregular schedule to pick up materials to ship to Ottawa and Washington, dropped in on us occassionally. It was not unusual for those guys to "accidentally" kick off a couple of film canisters that contained very recent Hollywood films. They would pick them up on their next flight. The OC was pretty good about regularly proclaiming some of the beer stores as having gone "skunky" and should be disposed of immediately. A party would be promptly initiated and the "skunky" beer disposed of within a few hours".
Maurice Drew provides his impressions. "What I do remember is that during my first visit to Alert (c1960) eggs were powdered and bread was made from a powder (with powdered milk and powdered eggs). We took large red pills to supplement our vitamin requirement and Tang (powdered orange juice), developed for the space program, was mixed with water to make juice that had a unique taste. None of these, of course, required refrigeration. At one point we were low on real food so there was a special flight sent to Alert with fresh fruit and meat. The steaks were, literally, like leather and we pigged out on the fruit that gave most of us hives that prevented normal sleep for a few days.
An amusing anecdote at around this time was that beer was meted out but I didn't drink beer and there were no soft drinks available. So, being responsible for procurement at the time, I ordered a "case" of Pepsi Cola. A few weeks later a Herc arrived with the entire fuselage loaded with Pepsi Cola! Most of it was dumped over the cliff off the runway. I bet it's still there!
Then there was the issue of strawberries. The JAWS cook felt that his crew were entitled to a few of the strawberries that had been shipped to Alert. I don't remember who the CO of Alert was at the time but the JAWS cook got into a real snit with him and threatened to quit over the incident. Shades of the Caine Mutiny.
Fast forward to c1964, I had just come in to Alert from Thule. It was near Christmas and I wanted to stay in Thule where I knew there would be fine dining. To my surprise, the cooks at Alert put on a spread that could not be equalled! Everyone dressed for the occasion and we enjoyed turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, turnip and all the trimmings, including wine! Spirits were high and several weeks later I didn't want to go back to Thule. Imagine that!
Here's another point I'll bet not many know about - there was, and probably still is, a cache of food buried near the old transmitter site about five miles out of Alert. The cache was an emergency food supply in event that the enemy overran the station and we were able to escape, or whatever. There may have been other reasons for the cache but this is what I was told it was all about and I wasn't to tell anyone. But I wasn't shown the exact spot. I confess to being a bit worried about this thinking that one day I might starve to death not being able to find the cache I "knew" was there. As if we didn't have other things to worry about.
One more, and that's it: A shipment of supplies, including Alert's beer ration for the month, was held up in Resolute due to bad weather. By the time a flight was able to make it to Alert the crew at Resolute had polished off the beer. I don't remember what year this was but there were about fifteen military staff at Alert who I swear were close to homicidal. What angered them even more is that when beer finally made it to Alert it was American Schlitz. The army lads called it something else"
Until 1980, only men were permitted in the Communicator Research occupation, thus only men were posted to Alert. In September 1980, however, DND began trial postings of a small number of women to Alert. In May 1983, as a result of the success of those trials, the employment of women at Alert was authorized and the Communicator Research occupation was opened to women. 1980 also saw the establishment of a gymnasium and facilities for curling , bowling and other leisure activities.
One of Alert's biggest headaches during the early years was the disposal of human waste. Since there was no septic system in place, all sewage was collected in empty 45 gallon drums. Each building had "throne" room which was found to the side of the main (front) entrance of each building. The throne was raised in order to accommodate the 45 gallon drum below which collected the waste. On a regular schedule, all waste was picked up by the "Shwailets Detail". Shwailets was a acronym for Shit/Water/Oil/etc. Collection was every four days. For Monday it was the honeybuckets and garbage; Tuesday was water, Wednesday for oil, and Thursday the rotation started again. The 45 gallon drums were not capped with any lid, so they had to be handled with great care.
Dry waste was offloaded at the dump while the drums containing the "honey" were taken to "Shwailets Hill"
where they were placed out to freeze. By the next pickup cycle, the now frozen drums would be would be kicked over the hill where they would roll down onto the ice of "Shiwailets Bay" and "fresh" drums placed out to freeze. One can only imagine the "aroma" at Shwailets Bay once summer came. Garbage was never flown out of Alert. It was always hauled to a nearby dump, sometimes burned and the remains bulldozed into a nearby bay. Today dump is located further away from the bay and garbage is routinely burned. It is now very eco-friendly operation.
|Alert's famous signpost, located at the airstrip, was constructed as a Centennial project in 1967. The original sign is the one in the very center. Everything else has been added by personnel wishing to personalize the signpost. Before the original sign was epoxied, all residents of Alert at the time were invited to sign it. (From the Alert photo pool via Joe Costello)|
Prior to 1981, all SIGINT traffic was encrypted and transmitted to Ottawa by high frequency radioteletype and
LF (low frequency) teletype transmission to Ottawa via Thule. In the summer months, periodic blackouts due to sunspot activity interrupted transmission for several days at a time. Amateur radio was designated as an emergency backup to the HF link.
"Beyond the Inuit Lands" expands on the transmitter site:The transmitter antenna site was established four miles south of Alert itself in 1959. Antenna cable was laid from the station to the site using a caterpillar tractor and a drum of cable mounted on a sled. The grounding system was installed and the many antenna towers were raised using caterpillars to pull them erect. Lids removed from the empty fuel drums were used as anchors for the many antenna support cables.Bill Robinson provides excerpts regarding the early history of the HF link.
The transmitter site was the scene of considerable activity and interest in 1972. Four new High Frequency single side band transmitters were installed as the first step in a modernization of the transmitter facility. A new 8 KV power transmission line was laid to the site by the summer CEU work crew. A request for a new Low Frequency communications system and an entirely new transmitter building was submitted at the end of the year.
Problems with the cable to the Transmitter site in 1973 were repaired temporarily by a replacement cable and 1 Line Troop made permanent repairs and recovered the temporary cable later in the summer. Annual antenna maintenance in 1973 was carried out by a crew from Marconi".
"G.J. Bury 9. provides more details on the transmitting arrangements. Transmitters: 10 kW at southern end, using "compromise rhombic antenna", radio teletype with double frequency shift; 5 kW at northern terminal, using frequency diversity, with the same antenna system. Receivers: both are equipped with rhombic antennas and conventional high quality receivers. Frequencies: South to North: 5-16 Mc, North to South: 7.5-16 Mc. Monthly circuit availability in each direction varies from about 40 to 93 per cent. Lower availability figures: 57% in 1960, 46% in 1961, 43% in 1962, 37% in Jan 1963. October to March is "the low availability period" for each year, with less pronounced lows occurring at other times. The "mean efficiency" of the main HF link in 1966 was only 67%. It used three, wire rhombic antennas10.
An LF-Troposcatter-Microwave circuit also existed from Alert to Ottawa (4200 km), with a "fairly constant efficiency of 97 percent" [Pratley]. This circuit was described by Bury as follows: A LF circuit "with both terminals north of the Arctic Circle and separated by 700 km" [i.e., the distance between Alert and Thule]. Transmitters: each 3 kW, North end transmits at 245 kc and uses a 150 ft tower; South end transmits at 140 kc and uses 625 foot tower -- this tower is "all that remains of an LF experimental navigation system". System was a radio teletype circuit with error detection and correction equipment. Southern end patched into a tropospheric system, ultimate terminal in the southern part of the country: "circuit provides 95 per cent availability all year around." [Bury]. This circuit was probably LF to Thule, tropo to Cape Dyer, NWT then tropo over DEW systems and south to the domestic microwave system.
The tropo link from the eastern Arctic to southern Canada was established in 1956. The Thule to Cape Dyer tropo link, primarily used for carrying BMEWS early warning data from Thule, was "technically unsatisfactory" and "shut down in the early seventies." It was replaced by a tropo link to Hall Beach, NWT. "Also technically unsatisfactory, this system was converted to satellite in 1985, and the troposcatter system was discontinued.11."
CHALLENGES IN THE 1960's
This excerpt, taken from the Supplementary Radio Activities Consolidation Plan document dated May 30, 1966, gives some idea as to the intelligence gathering challenges being faced the planners. "It is estimated that by 1970 Soviet high echelon circuits will be virtually immune from interception except where back-up circuits are called into use. [2 1/2 lines deleted]. Intelligence on Soviet order of battle and on certain aspects of operations, already gleaned chiefly from low-power, low echelon links, is not expected to be so seriously degraded. The very nature of the intelligence required demands that traffic from the lower echelons be located and intercepted, for it is this traffic, when analyzed in depth, which provides the valuable and unique intelligence.
The Director Communications Branch, National Research Council has indicated that CBNRC's concept of combatting these two main problems; the rapidly increasing volume and the need for improved access to low power, low echelon circuits; is to rely chiefly on the scope of wide band intercept and automatic processing and to move as geographically close as is feasible to the USSR in order to extend the limits of coverage and so reach the low-power, low echelon circuits. The technique of wide-band intercept permits a band of frequencies to be monitored by a simple receiver and all signals heard on frequencies within that band to be recorded on magnetic tape. Thus, by banking sufficient numbers of wide-band receivers, large portions of the spectrum can be covered by comparatively few operators at strategically selected sites. The tapes can then be flown to more civilized locations where they can be played back, the traffic analyzed and the intelligence processed.
The disadvantage of complete reliance on this method is that the quantity of traffic taken and the consequent number of operators and analysts required to process it preclude any practical prospect of processing at remote stations. Thus, no immediate exploitation of an intercepted signal is possible and there is a distinct risk of a critical signal [one line deleted] not being recognized until its value has been abrogated. In addition there is inevitably a delay in deriving the intelligence from the played-back tapes.
In order to take advantage of the wide-band technique and yet to retain the necessary faculty for prompt exploitation, and at the same time to concentrate the effort as far north as possible, CBNRC envisages employing perhaps [deleted] wide-band positions and [deleted ] or nineteen conventional narrow-band positions each at Alert and Inuvik. The tapes of the take from the wide-band positions would then be flown to a less isolated station, preferably Ottawa Wireless Station because of its proximity to CBNRC, for playback, analysis and processing while the capability for timely exploitation would be preserved by the other [xxxxxxxx] or nineteen positions and the steering, analysis and reporting staff at the stations. The optimum proportion of rearward processing positions to forward wide-band intercept positions has yet to be determined. CBNRC is studying this aspect now".
Ray White was an LRTS supervisor in 1967 (Long Range Technical Search) during one of his tours of duty. "During my tour at Alert we operated some quite revolutionary equipment – for that period – and most of it was sensitive to the point that we don't mention it even today.
There was one item which came under my control, however, that affected all other operations including the Administration, Engineering and other sections. The DOT Air Radio and the Weather and Seismographic station all used the output of this piece of equipment. It was the AN/GSQ-53 Time and Frequency Standard, which was a cesium beam device which controlled all time and frequency devices. It had a computerized voice which was carried on the station telephone system and provided an accurate time comparison for the entire station. It was used to regulate the line frequency of the electric power plant, for example. Within the Operations section, however, we used the extremely accurate frequency standard for many electronic applications which I will not go into.
We compared the transmissions from Rugby, UK/MSF time signal on VLF and the US National Bureau of Standards VLF transmission and adjusted our output to within the necessary tolerances. We were told that the GSQ had an accuracy in the range of parts of ten to the twelfth. Such an awesome number we never questioned its accuracy.
It was necessary to keep unauthorized personnel at a distance from the GSQ, primarily to protect the equipment from static electricity discharge, a common problem in the Arctic. We did have one major outage during my tour, caused, we think, by the close proximity of one of the military personnel cleaning the floors in the LRTS section. The GSQ ceased operation and, as they say, the dominoes fell. Experts from CBNRC had to travel to Alert the following week to replace a number of transistors followed by a long drawn out recalibration process.
The entire GSQ-53 was mounted in a standard electronic equipment cabinet and when installed there was no room for additional equipment in the rack. There was a constant temperature oven for the crystals but it was an unspectacular looking device, with the exception of the red nixie lights constantly displaying the current UTC time. They would undoubtedly be a LCD setup today. The connection bar at the rear used standard BNC connectors for the various applications within operations".
It was a significant part of the station operation and in LRTS it was a great aid for analyzing the various systems we looked at. We never realized how the importance of the GSQ-53 to our operation until we sustained our first outage".
With the arrival of wide band operations, the collected traffic was written to very wide-magnetic tape ( possibly 1" or more wide), packed in specially shielded boxes and flown to Ottawa on the return leg of the replenishment flights. This had the positive effect of increasing flight frequency to Alert. Ottawa (Leitrim) of course, always received the previous week's output.
While new antenna towers being erected at the transmitter site in 1964, an 80 foot tower collapsed with a man in it at the 75 foot level. This happened during the annual resupply known as "Operation Boxtop" Since a C-130 Hercules aircraft was available on the runway, the injured person was placed into a Bombardier vehicle and rushed directly onto the Herc. Unfortunately he died on way to hospital in Thule, Greenland.
A new 108 x 31 foot transmitter building was erected at Alert in 1975 and the interior finished in 1976. It was called Lancaster Hall and dedicated to the flyers killed in the 1950 Lancaster accident. A memorial plaque was affixed to the building.
Maurice Drew recalls one security related incident. "All scrap paper was considered classified material and was burned. There was a stove built outside of the operations building just for this purpose. One of the military lads stuffed the furnace, lit it and walked away thinking it would burn by itself. It didn't and when a storm came up and blew the classified waste all over the place, the naval operations officer had all military staff lined up, upwind, with orders to walk from the base to the runway, about a mile or so, and pick up anything that wasn't meant to be there. One of them pulled up our number three, long wire, VLF antenna!
The "Pusher" antenna just north of CFS Alert, was completed in late August 1973 and the antenna site became operational the following year. It is confirmed that this is the AN/FRD-13 system.
HADCS - THE MAIN COMMUNICATIONS LINK
Dr. John Strickland of Diversitel Communications offers a historical perspective regarding the first satellite communications to Eureka.
" The first communications by satellite between Eureka and the south occurred in 1974. A link was established between the Communications Research Centre (CRC) at Ottawa and a temporary terminal established for three weeks on a hill to the east of Black Top Creek. This location was visible to the geostationary satellite at 109 W longitude. We made the first measurements of the fading due the propagation along a path at a very low elevation angle. I know of these measurements since I remained at CRC and was responsible for recording data and for some of the subsequent analysis and publication. If memory serves, one of the movers in this project was (Lt?) Col. John Kent who, I believe is now deceased.
Telesat Canada played a key role with their contribution in obtaining these measurements and also to their continuing efforts in succeeding years. As a next step, Telesat submitted an Unsolicited Proposal for a year-long trial of communications between the south and Eureka. In 1975, a satellite was moved to 105 W longitude and thus became visible to the eastern half of the Eureka airstrip. Since electrical power was available at the west end of the runway, Telesat proposed to install two Anikom terminals at Eureka in 1976, one at the eastern end of the runway and the other at about 500 m to the west. A third Anikom terminal was installed at CRC in Ottawa. Although some conventional wisdom felt that 500 m horizontal spacing would be sufficient to ensure that fading at one location would be essentially independent of fading at the other location, initial results proved otherwise. I know, as I was at Eureka and plotted the original data. This 'negative' result, and other observations of meteorological data from the Eureka Upper Air Station, lent more weight to an alternative model of low-angle fading. As a consequence, we (CRC) established two experimental locations west of the Weather Station. These locations had substantial vertical separation. Measurements confirmed the theoretical model of low-angle fading, and proved that reliable communications between Eureka and the south could be assured.
As an aside, I am not aware of any direct involvement of DREO in these measurements. A portion of CRC's work (about 20% I think) was carried out under military tasking. In 1979, the Department of Communications was formed and DRTE (Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment) became CRC with some continuing military work".
In 1976, the Department of National Defence, defined an operational requirement to develop a new two-way, medium-data-rate communications system3. from CFS Alert to Ottawa. This system would include terrestrial radio repeater stations from Alert to Eureka , Northwest Territories (now Nunavut) with a satellite link from Eureka to Ottawa. The proposed system called for repeater stations to have a transmitting level of 1 watt and a 30 watt power supply draw at each station. Repeater stations were to be able to operate unattended for one year. A report about battery research for the project was written by Gerard. D. Nagy of the Defence Research Establishment Ottawa (DREO). The Communications Security Establishment (CSE) was directly involved in overseeing development of the system.
In March of the same year, Honeywell Incorporated was awarded a contract to build and test, by July 1977, a demonstration radio repeater for use in an Arctic environment 12. The system included two unattended radio repeater relay terminals, complete with receivers, transmitters and power supplies, which were installed 24 to 25 miles from Alert. In this demonstration system, signals were transmitted from the base station to the first repeater, back to the base station, then on to the second repeater and back to the base station, providing four relay legs over mountainous terrain, water and ice at a speed of 56 kbps. The transmitted power for these terminals was around 100 mW, about one-tenth of the power required for the actual repeater stations. The mini-systems were installed and tested during August and September of 1976 and were reported to have worked well after a few installation and start-up problems 13. In March of 1976, DREO was tasked by DCEM to conduct a feasibility study of reliable, long-life, self-contained 30-watt power supplies for operation in the Arctic. This study was done concurrently with the Honeywell feasibility tests 14.
When studies showed that a reliable link was feasible, the High Arctic Data Communications System (HADCS) was born and construction began in 1981. It was commissioned with a link speed of 1.544 mbps. The plan included the installation of two satellite earth stations in Eureka and six repeater sites between Eureka and Alert as part of Project Hurricane . The structural frames for the repeater stations were prefabricated by Gascoigne Industrial Products Ltd., Toronto and assembled on site by Canadian Forces engineers and a Gascoigne assembly foreman. HADCS was completed in the summer of 1982 6. In Ottawa, the satellite link terminates at the Sir Leonard Tilley building8.
HADCS became Alert's primary means of communication to the south but due to the limited capacity of the original HADCS system, a lot of the SIGINT collected at Alert was taken out on data tapes on the frequent Hercules C-130 flights that serve the station.
John Strickland comments on site selection for the earth stations at Eureka. "For any location, only a portion of the geostationary arc is visible. If there were a geostationary satellite directly south of Eureka, the elevation angle to the satellite would be about 1.3 degrees. The elevation angle to geostationary locations to the east or to the west would be lower. The antenna would definitely not be pointed horizontally. In fact, more than 50 degrees of the geostationary orbit are visible at Eureka's latitude. One of the problems is obstruction by the foreground. For obvious reasons, the Eureka Weather Station is located near sea level. Hare Cape lies across the fjord and places Eureka in the shadow of the Canadian geostationary satellites suitable for data communications. For this reason, the earth stations are located west of Eureka where they have a clear view to the SSW along Eureka Sound.
As a result , one earth terminal is located at Skull Point, about 30 m above the fjord. Since vertical spacing is required for effective site diversity operation, the second terminal (Upper Paradise) is located uphill from Skull Point".
In October 1992, DND published a request for "budgetary quotation and supporting information for a 12-month High Arctic Data Communication System Upgrade definition study", with bids due by 24 November 1992 7.. This was probably the beginning of the HADCS II project. In support of remote control operation of Alert, HADCS was upgraded to HADCS II around August 1998. As part of a technical requirement, the link speed speed increased from 1.544 Mbps (T1) to 6.312 Mbps (T2), a four fold increase. Telesat Canada was the prime contractor for the upgrade. HADCS II brought FAX capability, television channels and Internet access thus making Alert much less the hardship post it once was. With the completion of the HADCS II link and the rest of the remoting project, most, if not all, of the station's take is remoted live to CFS Leitrim, which can now analyze the material in real-time, without the delay previously introduced by waiting for delivery of the tapes.
The original HADCS operated in the 900 MHz UHF band. This is normally considered as lying within the UHF band of frequencies rather than in the microwave bands. Even in 1982 when HADCS was installed, microwave referred to much higher frequencies, but the term 'microwave' sound more high-tech and exotic than UHF. The current link operates in the bands near 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz.
The satellite used to link Eureka and Ottawa changes from time to time as new satellites are brought into service. These satellites all operate in C-band, which means the uplink lies in the band near 6 GHz and the downlink lies in the band near 4 GHz .
|The Skull Point location as seen in April 1982. Upper Paradise is approximately 3,000 feet to the back of Skull Point and approximately 500 feet higher in elevation. The smaller dish is a 12' reflector that was installed and used for the original propagation measurements from Skull Point in 1978. Another 12 foot dish was installed at Upper Paradise for the same purpose. These two names (Skull Point and Upper Paradise) were related to events and personnel at the time so they have struck. Note the microwave tower to the right of the larger dish. (Photo courtesy Griff Toole, MSN Groups)|
|This is the Skull Point station as seen in summer. Although barely visible, there is a microwave dish mounted on a tower behind the second shelter from the right. The station is approximately 98 feet (30 metres) above the fijord. (Image provided by Bill Robinson)|
POWERING THE HADCS CHAIN
When HADCS was first constructed, the repeater stations in the UHF chain were powered with SAFT AD 608 2000 amp/hour, air depolarized (zinc-air) primary cells. Each repeater had two banks of batteries - one prime and one backup with 8 to 10 battery boxes of 14 cells in each box. Annual battery maintenance or replacement was required. Each summer the prime battery bank was removed and the existing back-up bank was taken into active service (i.e., it became the prime bank) and a fresh set of batteries was installed as the back-up bank. The old set of batteries had to be removed for disposal. Because of the remoteness of the HADCS sites and the weight of the battery system (about 2 tons per site), replacement of the battery banks each year was a major operation and a major expense.
Diversitel Communications began work on improved power supply systems for the link between Alert and Eureka in the mid 1980s. The first system used power from photovoltaic panels to supply power to the radio repeaters during the sunny season from March to September, and incorporated means to reliably switch between solar power and the two primary battery banks. The costly battery resupply operation could then be reduced to every other year.
In the early 1990s, Diversitel conceived an idea whereby solar power could be used to supply power to the radio repeaters throughout the entire year. Diversitel submitted a proposal, was awarded a contract, and installed an experimental system at CFS Alert in August 1992. The first year of operation confirmed the soundness of the concept. In 2001, the company was awarded a contract to design, manufacture, and install a maintenance-free power supply system at each of the six repeater sites. The system is based on the ideas of the original Diversitel experimental system as tested in Alert. The first repeater station to be converted was 'Yankee' on July 8, 2003.
The Thermin II power supply system. Note the four pads especially designed for permafrost locations. (Photo by Alan Strickland, Diversitel Communications)
In the Thermin II Power Supply System, a lead-acid battery is located within a special enclosure and kept sufficiently warm so that its electrolyte does not freeze even though the outside temperature can drop to -40°C. Since the sun is never more than 33 degrees above the horizon and snow cover remains until mid-June, the panels are mounted vertically to capture both direct sunlight and snow-scattered radiation. Dr. John Strickland (mentioned previously) , an electrical engineer working in Ottawa, Ontario, came up with this innovative design for a power generator. The system has been designed for continuous, unattended, maintenance free operation for 15 years before the batteries require replacing. Expensive annual battery resupply operations have been eliminated thus saving DND substantial amounts of money.
For a comprehensive technical report by John Strickland on the Thermin II Power Supply system, please select this link.
Each summer, in an exercise known as 'Operation Hurricane,' military technicians and support personnel are deployed by helicopters to the northern part of Ellesmere Island to repair and resupply the otherwise unattended system. According to the booklet "Visitor's Guide to Eureka", Hurricane is an acronym and it means Honeywell Uninterrupted Radio Relay In Canada's Arctic Northern Ellesmere.
Eureka, a weather and research station founded in 1947 and situated about 500 kms to the southwest of CFS Alert, serves as the Operations Center for Project Hurricane. From May to July, the camp typically hosts two or three CH-146 Griffons helicopters, a CC-138 Twin Otter, a CC-115 Buffalo and the CC-130 Hercules all of which deliver all personnel and supplies from down south. It takes in a wide scope of activities ranging from maintenance of electronic equipment at six remote UHF sites to the maintenance of all Eureka’s infrastructure and roads. With the introduction of long life batteries at the UHF repeater sites in 2003, it is assumed that Operation Hurricane has been been scaled down substantially since there is no longer any need to swap out the heavy battery banks.
All members of Operation Hurricane have to shovel snow one day or another during the exercise - all the way from the chief to the corporal. All personnel work a six-day week, generally 12 hours in duration. Many of the tasks required of Operation Hurricane personnel are conducted outdoors. Temperatures during the months of May and part of June range from –25 to zero C. Outdoor work is gauged on the current wind chill factor. In the latter part of June and July, the temperatures can range from the low teens to +20C. In July one can expect some rain and a full two weeks of mosquitoes.
Eureka has the label of being "The Garden Spot of Ellesmere Island". Temperatures in July can get as high as +23C and it has the distinction of being the second-northernmost permanent research community in the world. The only one farther north is of course is Alert. In 2005, Eureka reported a permanent population of 0 but there are at least 8 staff present on a continuous rotational basis. The base consists of three areas, the Eureka Airport which includes "Fort Eureka" (the quarters for military personnel maintaining the island's communications equipment), the Environment Canada Weather Station, and the ASTRO/PEARL Observatory.
MAIN OPERATIONS BUILDING
|Polaris Hall in 2004. This is the main Operations Building. Completed 1978-1980, Polaris Hall cost approximately $3.2 million. Note the stilts supporting the building, a common construction technique in the Arctic. Only those personnel possessing a high security clearance are permitted access to the building. DND will not permit any up closeup photographs of the antennas. (Photo by Alex Urosevic -- Toronto Sun)|
According to an equipment and capabilities article written by Bill Robinson, "The intercept antennae at the station include a variety of high frequency (HF) and very high frequency (VHF) antennae, and one large high frequency direction finding (HFDF) circularly disposed antenna array (CDAA). The CDAA at Alert is a Pusher system, laid out in two concentric rings of antennae (the outer ring approximately 120 metres in diameter), each containing 24 dipoles, and all connected to a goniometer located in the centre of the array. This system can monitor the entire HF radio frequency band, from 1.5 MHz to 30 MHz.
Work is continuing to improve the capabilities of this system. Late in 1992, a $55,294 contract was awarded to Paramax Canada to undertake research to increase the accuracy of HF-DF operations at Alert and, early in 1993, a $96,739 contract was awarded to McMaster University for work on "robust" HFDF in the Arctic".
Alert's military routing indicator for classified and unclassified traffic is RCOOKCA.
SOME OF THE EQUIPMENT USED AT ALERT
|Kay Sona-Graph: Designed in the 1950's it was an invaluable tool for signal analysis. It was used in Alert, Aklavik, Churchill, Coverdale, Inuvik, Ladner and Leitrim. Click on graphic for further details. (Graphic courtesy Sonic-Studio).|
|AN/GSQ-53 - Time and Frequency Standard. Accuracy to 10 -12 seconds. It was designed to provide stable frequencies and real time information for signal analysis and data automation requirements. (From (1977) NAVEDTRA 1025)|
|1958: R388/URR. This is the military version
of the Collins 51J3 commercial receiver. 18 tubes. Manufactured 1952 through
1955, by Collins, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The retail value of the 51J-3 was
$US 1,000. Pictured here is the 51J3. (Photo courtesy Dampfradioforum
Frequency Coverage: 500 kHz to 30.5 MHz into thirty 1 MHz bands
|1958: RCA AR-88. The 'D' version of the receiver covered 535 KHz to 32 MHz. (Courtesy Ray Robinson Communication Museum)|
|Hammarlund SP600J Receiver. Coverage: 0.54 mHz to 54 mHz, in six bands. (Photo courtesy Kurrajong Radio Museum, Australia)|
|Racal RA-117B with RA-63 SSB adapter. 1960's vintage. NATO stock number 5820-21-112-9012. Equates to a R5039URR designator which then equates to a RA-117B18. receiver. (Photography arranged by Harry Nolan, CFS Leitrim and Pte R.L. Vaters)|
|1958: Revere T700 series reel-to-reel tape recorder. Dual speed recorder - 3.75 and 7.5 inches per second. Cost around $US 225 in it's heyday. (Photo via E-bay)|
|AN/FRT-501 Transmitter. AM/CW. 500 watts, crystal controlled. 60" H x 22"W x 18" D. Weight - 650 pounds. 1.5 to 15 MHz. Originally made for the RCAF in the early 1950's by Canadian Marconi and deployed mainly to RCAF DEW Line radar sites. The RF output stage uses four 4-125 tubes. Transmitter shown with front door open. (Photo by Albert Santangelo, VE3AJM)|
|AN/FRT-501 RF deck and front panel closeup. The transmitter had remote control capability. (Photo by Albert Santangelo, VE3AJM)|
|BC-610 Transmitter. AM/CW . Range - 1.5 to 18 MHz. 400 watts. Made by Hallicrafters. This example was made in 1959. At Alert, the BC-610 was used to transmit traffic to Ottawa and was also used for amateur radio in the VE8TU era. It was located in its own Comm shelter that abutted against the southwest end of the communications building. (Photo courtesy Old Radio web site)|
|Teletype Model 28. Send/Receive page printer. Maximum printing speed was 100 wpm. These were used at Alert until 1986. (Image courtesy Teletype Corp)|
|Teletype Model 40. This was the replacement for the Model 28 family at Alert. It was Teletype's first series of combined electronic CRT and high speed printer terminals manufactured between 1979-1984. The M40-KD is the Keyboard-Display unit, and the M40-ROP is the Receive-Only Printer. (Photo courtesy Baudot.net)|
|Siemens Oscillomink L - This is a 4 channel, ink jet, strip chart recorder. Most of the time only two of the four channels were used while in SUPRAD service. It is reported that the ink jets clogged up frequently and there were few spare units around. The device worked like an inkjet printer, spraying a thin jet of ink, which would oscillate in response to a variable input. The paper drive speed was variable thus allowing the operator to alter the presentation of the trace. Faster signals would require a faster paper drive speed. Larger image not available. (Image courtesy www.spare-exchange.com)|
Amateur radio played a key role in helping to maintain high morale among the station's personnel - both for its operators and those wishing to pass messages or using a phone patch to keep in touch with home. It was especially important in the days when mail came every 6 weeks. The "ham rig" was always referred to as the "backup" communications system, hence the justification for its existence.
VE8AT - The Beginning (1957 to 1958)
Amateur radio saw its beginnings at Alert Wireless Station in 1957, when Earle Smith was authorized by the Department of Transport (DOT) to use his own call sign VE8AT for the very first station . This was the same call sign which he used in Whitehorse, Yukon where he was issued VE8AT in 1954 upon being transferred in from 408 (Photo) Squadron Goose Bay, Labrador where he was on Temporary Duty during SHORAN operations. Earle's first call sign, issued in 1948, was VE1SA.
Initially he encountered difficulty in securing permission to bring his own equipment to Alert but this was quickly solved. When the Air Officer Commanding, Air Transport Command dropped in for a visit, Earle and a group of other personnel had a heart-to heart talk with the Commanding Officer. Permission to operate an amateur radio station was granted before before the CO left the base.
Marcel VE8NS, one of the weather station observers, loaned Earle a Johnston Viking II Ranger transmitter. Earle supplied his own Vibroplex key which he acquired from a USAF communicator in Goose Bay, Labrador in 1954. This key is still in use today, over 50 years later. For receiving , an RCA AR-88LF was used. During Alert's traffic blackouts caused by ionospheric disturbances, the BC-610 HF transmitter was authorized for amateur radio use. Besides, this station, Earle also had the use of an Hammarlund SP-600 receiver plus the AN/FRT-501 transmitter. The FRT-501 was a backup transmitter to the HF link but it became dedicated to amateur radio operation at least for a short while. Slight modifications were made to '501 transmitter so it would operate with a VFO. Double sideband (DSB) capability was added in addition to the normal CW/AM modes. All the modifications were removed prior to Earle's departure from Alert.
For antennas, the station used a homebrew two element ZL-Special and an insulated Beverage wire lying on the ground. It was about 1-2 miles long and worked great so long as the wind wasn't blowing snow across it. There were also other antennas which could be selected at anytime. When Earle departed in 1958, so did his call sign thus leaving Alert Wireless without an amateur station until the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals (RCCS) activated VE8TU. Earle's call sign today is VE6NM. Call sign VE8AT now belongs to The Northern Alberta Radio Club NARC ( http://www.narc.net) and is used in support of the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) beacon project with the transmitter located at Eureka, Ellesmere Island.
VE8TU Arrives (1960 to mid-1964)
Next, was call sign VE8TU which came into use around 1960. Ron Hutchinson, VE3NG provides a bit of history for that period. "My involvement with Alert began in 1963 when I received a posting as a civilian radio operator at the station as an employee of DND.
Alert Wireless Station (AWS) was re-subordinated from the Royal Canadian Air Force to RCCS in 1960. About that time, the call sign VE8TU was issued and it was used until mid-1964, when it was changed to VE8RCS, to more accurately identify the station. The call sign suffix 'RCS', a contraction of Royal Canadian Signals, was already in use at that time at the Corps HQ in Kingston (VE3RCS) and at one or two other RCCS stations, so the change to VE8RCS was a logical progression.
By that time, the presence of the Canadian military in Alert was a matter of public record and the mission of AWS was stated to be high arctic communications research. The association of AWS, via the amateur radio call sign, to the Signal Corps and the Canadian military was considered by most in charge in Ottawa to no longer be a security issue.
The existence of the amateur station at Alert occasionally continued to come into question from a security point of view by various military command elements. There was concern that operational details of the station might be accidentally compromised over the air. It was justified to higher authority on the grounds that amateur radio provided a much needed means for station personnel to communicate, via phone patches, with their families in the south. Without it, except for urgent medical or extremely compassionate family matters, there was no contact with family members other than by mail. In the case of the former, such contact was only conducted through official military communication channels on the authority of the respective commanding officers. There were no public communication facilities.
It must be remembered that, from a security point of view, AWS was an extremely sensitive military installation. Even reference to its generic mission or the term Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) was classified as TOP SECRET at that time. The 'no ham station' views did not prevail however authority was granted for the station to continue operating, but with a very strict list of restrictions, such as:
- The primary purpose will be to provide phone patches for station personnel.
- Casual on-air activities such as rag chewing, dx'ing and contesting will be limited, but not prohibited, and will
not take priority over phone patching for station personnel.
- Military ranks and surnames will not be used on the air.
- There will be no contact with Amateur Stations in the Soviet Union or East Bloc countries.
- Details of all station facilities, logistics, personnel rotation and ranks, the weather, or any other subject related
to specific station capabilities or activities will not be discussed on the air.
One of the common Alert myths of the 1960’s was that the Russians, via Radio Moscow, would welcome by name, the newly arrived personnel at Alert. There is no hard evidence to support this rumour. There was also mention of a similar greeting in HMCS Churchill in the early 1950's, when Moscow Molly was said to greet newcomers to the navy station. Again, there is no evidence to support this urban legend.
There are probably many interesting stories that various operators of the station from over the years could relate, but the most memorable for me was during the period we were working the USAF Thule Air Base Military Affiliated Radio Station (MARS) station, KG1BO, exchanging information regarding the Bjorn Staib Polar Expedition. The Norwegian explorer intended to make a complete surface crossing of the Arctic Ocean, via the North Pole, along with five Norwegian companions and dog sleds, staging from Alert in Feb/Mar 1964.
We had been instructed by DND HQ in Ottawa to establish a link with Thule by amateur radio and to provide whatever communications assistance we could to assist the expedition. The USAF was providing logistic support for Staib and General Curtis E. LeMay was directing that aspect. LeMay was in daily contact from Washington with the Thule Base Commander, Col Shomo, who in turn was in daily contact by phone patch with the Staib camp at Alert, via VE8TU. Starting from Alert in March 1964, the Staib expedition team failed to make the crossing and had to be evacuated from 86° 31 'N on May 8.
An interesting side note to this story is that radio operator of the Staib party died while in Alert, and there was much speculation as to the cause of his death. Initially, there were reports that foul play was suspected. That story was subsequently denied but the scuttlebutt continued for days after. A coffin was constructed and the body was moved from the air strip camp to one of the unheated warehouses until it could be shipped home, no doubt in a well preserved state due to the extreme cold in the building.
Stu Brown of Winnipeg Manitoba was the Medic at Alert at the onset of the expedition. He provides this eyewitness account. "The man that died was the expedition's Radio Operator and he should not have been there because he weighed around 270 lbs. With Alert's low air temperatures and low humidity, he had a difficult time surviving. I noticed that there were reports that showed increased carbon dioxide levels which would also make it difficult for anyone to be physically active.
From my discussion with the others on the Expedition, it sounded like he had a heart attack. That is what I suggested in my report and I believe that was also in the autopsy report. There was never any suggestion of foul play. All deaths outside of hospitals or not under a Doctor's care must have an autopsy by law. As I prepared him to be sent south I did a thorough examination and found no sign of any injury".
Maurice Drew describes some difficulties in breathing the air at Alert. "When it got super cold, it was hard to breathe. How cold did it get? Well, any moisture in the atmosphere would freeze into large, crystals that would scatter light from headlights and severely degrade normal vision. The air was so dry that when we were indoors our skin cracked and often bled. But that was only in winter. Summers were a bit more tolerable. When the wind blew in summer, the talcum-like dust got into every nook and cranny. We ate it, breathed it and washed our clothes in it. There was no escape".
Another favourite activity in the ham shack were the regular contacts with the stations in the high arctic JAWS weather station network. We talked regularly with Eureka, Isachsen, Mould Bay, Pond Inlet, Cambridge Bay, Resolute Bay, Grise Fiord and a few others on 75 meters during the winter months and sporadically during the summer 24 hour daylight period. The High Arctic Net, as we came to call it, had a sked every night at 7 PM on 3750 kHz and we would rag chew for hours sometimes.
When I arrived in Alert in October 1963 the equipment in use at VE8TU was an old BC-610 transmitter and an SP-600 receiver, with an outboard frequency meter. Later that year or early in 1964 we received a TMC SBT-1K transmitter and a Racal RA-17. The SP-600 also remained in the station and a teletype FSK/DFS converter and Model 28 Teletype were added. The latter was to be installed to be backup emergency communications for the station. That apparently justified the expenditure for the TMC transmitter for the ham shack.
The TMC SBT-1K was a 1KW SSB/DSB/CW transmitter. It was a beauty to behold in its 6 foot high, fully metered rack and crowned with a large cross needle power output/SWR meter…but it was useless as a ham station rig. Tuning it was a slow and tedious process and small frequency changes on the order of 25 to 50 kHz necessitated retuning. Forget changing frequency to another band and retuning in less than 5 or 10 minutes. It did, however, bring us into the world of single side band and a much improved capability to establish contacts with the south along with improved phone patch signal quality. The RA-17 was a quantum jump in receiver sensitivity and frequency stability over the SP-600 and added considerably to the ease of running patches. The antennas, during my tenure, were a 20 meter, 3 element Yagi and some dipoles for 20, 40 and 80 meters. I don't recall ever working above 20 meters during my time there.
When I left Alert in the spring of 1965 the TMC transmitter and the Racal were still the main components in the station. I understand that later that year, or sometime in 1966, all that was replaced in favourite of a Collins KWM-2 transceiver, 30L1 amplifier and matching station console with phone patch. That certainly would have made it 'state of the art', as that Collins configuration at that time would be considered any ham's dream station.
It was an era of good memories and lots of great times with the best bunch of work and play colleagues a person could have...many of whom are close friends to this day".
VE8RCS ERA ( mid-1964 to 1997)
This call sign change occurred in summer of 1964, sometime after the Bjorn Staib Polar expedition was over. Jim Troyanek was in Alert in 1964 and confirms operations under that call sign. It was registered to the Polar Amateur Radio Club, Wireless Station Alert , via RCAF Lancaster Park, Alberta.
VE8RCS, being in the most northerly inhabited place in the world, made it the most sought after station in the world. In second place was KC4AAA, the US Forces Station at Scott Base Antarctica followed the King of Jordan (JY1A). His wife Queen Noor was JY1B and his son, the current King of Jordan, was JY1C.
Under call sign VE8RCS, the station's contact address started as VE8RCS, Polar ARC, c/o CFS Alert, P.O. Box 5210, Stn. Forces, Belleville, Ontario. A 1974 call book listing shows the QSL manager as being W2GHK, Stuart Myer, Newark NJ. Then in 1987 it changes again to: Polar Amateur Radio Club, CFS Alert, MPO 310, Belleville, Ontario.
Doug Hyslop, VE9IZ, operated from Alert in April 1966 and recalls some of those memories "With the opening of Alert's broadcast band AM radio station, I got involved with broadcasting and together with a group of fellows, also formed the Alert Amateur Radio Club under VE8RCS. As a result of my enthusiasm, I was elected President of the club until I was posted to CFS Leitrim. In 1967, after becoming President, I had the privilege of making the longest contact on AM from Alert to "Little America" at the South Pole under the new the call sign VE8RCS16. At that time, that contact was written up in ARRL, QST and other magazines.
When it was my turn to start a station, I discovered that somewhere in the 1963-64 period the AN/FRT-501 transmitter previously used in amateur service had major problems and became unserviceable. In those days we had to fight for everything. Ottawa saw no administrative justification for sending any amateur radio equipment to Alert because there was no stability or a club who could look after the equipment.
A radio mechanic from Royal Canadian Sigs and myself modified the defective AN/FRT-501 transmitter to make an AM (DSB) mode station capable of transmitting on 20 meters around 14150 kHz. We used an WWII era BC-221 frequency meter to check the transmitting frequency. The rest of the gear consisted of a refurbished RACAL receiver hooked up to a 3 element beam, fixed in the southerly direction because the rotor was defective. The transmitter produced a delightful amount of power in the range of 50 to 150 watts. Since there was absolutely no EMI, noise nor interference from other transmitters, it made for an incredibly quiet receiving environment, something which I have never experienced anytime since. For many hours, I would sit in the shack just listening to different places from all over the world.
After rebuilding the '501 and forming an amateur radio club our ability to organize and deliver the goods clearly demonstrated that there was a new 'crowd' in Alert who could make things happen. Now, when we requested something new, Ottawa listened. After instilling further confidence, we requested a better transceiver. It was requisitioned as a morale booster and another backup rig for the antiquated system for sending messages back to HQ. They must have paid attention to our request and after many months of deliberation we were sent a Collins "S" line station just as I finished my tour of duty in Alert and was flying out of there. To this day, I have not had the opportunity to use this fine amateur radio gear.
In the 1966 era, the station's QSL cards were printed in Ottawa and it was the QSL manager's responsibility to keep us supplied with cards. During my time in Alert, I was not the only operator using the station. When not operating, I studied for my amateur radio ticket, eventually being issued a temporary licence under call sign VE8YQ. It had to be temporary because there was no DOT inspector in Alert to administer the exam. A few others also studied for their ticket like myself but I'm not sure whether they got their temporary call or not.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of the phone patch for the morale of the personnel. It was not lost on the Commanding Officer (Lt. Cdr Stroud), who by the way, liked his phone patches too. To give you some idea, two weeks before Christmas and until the middle of January, the CO re-scheduled me from my regular duties and I was given the task of operating VE8RCS twelve hours on, and 12 hours off in order to accommodate the high volume of phone patch traffic.
After I left Alert, I had the intention of getting my permanent license, however, my family and expenses made me put it aside. I was not aware that I could have renewed my temporary licence".
Operating the Alert's amateur station was not without its own form of stress. For security reasons, no surnames were ever permitted on the threat of disciplinary action. The operator was not allowed to make reference to their home station, their rank, their home phone number or any other piece of personal information. It was forbidden to let it be known that you were at a military station, never mind mentioning that it was a radio station or what its function was.
The general rule at all navy stations in the Supplementary Radio System (SUPRAD) stated that no amateur radio communication was permitted with Iron Curtain countries. The list of forbidden countries was promulgated in Station Standing Orders. For those following the posted orders at Alert, they felt the rules to be especially draconian. (As if the Russians didn't know what was going on in Alert).
Jim Troyanek recalls an incident which certainly tested his discipline. "Some time in 1964, I remember being in the shack after an evening shift. An amateur operating from Kabul, Afghanistan called me. He was so loud he could have blown the walls out. I replied. We had a short QSO and carried on in the usual manner. When I finished with him an RU ham called me with the same signal strength or even better. I couldn't respond because of the regulations. The operator kept calling me, so I finally just shut the rig down and went back to my quarters. This happened often and I suspect that some of the operators did actually answer these calls".
AMATEUR RADIO AT ALERT: THE STATION THROUGH THE YEARS
Click to enlarge
VE8AT : This early QSL card used graphics printed from a lino block. The colours were then filled in individually. Used from 1957 to 1958. Lynn Tennant (deceased) as one of the two Com RS rates who assisted with the design and production. (Image courtesy Jim Troyanek) VE8TU : QSL used from 1960 until the colour version came into use. Printed by VE6AV. (Image courtesy Jim Troyanek) VE8TU : The colour version of the QSL card. When VE8RCS became active, its QSL was modelled on the VE8TU design. It would have been used until mid-1964. (Image supplied by Maurice Drew) VE8RCS : This card bears the CARF (Canadian Amateur Radio Federation) logo. Since CARF spanned the years 1967 to 1993, this card can be anywhere from that year range. It is presumed that this card was used until the very end. (Image courtesy Rick Nay VE3RNY). VE8RCS: Back of QSL card. MPO 310 is the Military Post Office for Trenton Ontario. (Image via E-bay) 1957: Earle Smith, VE8AT is manning the Johnson VIKING II transmitter (65 watts) and AR88 receiver combo. (Image courtesy Jim Troyanek's Alert web page) September 1964: Jim Troyanek is at the station controls running a phone patch schedule. From left to right: Hammarlund SP600 receiver; Racal RA-17 receiver with RA-63 SSB adapter option directly above it; Technical Materials Corp transmitter Model SBT-1K. The piece of equipment atop the Racal is not identified at this time. Transmitter specs: 2-32 MHz 1 kw output; SSB/ISB/AM/CW/FSK. There were 17 different models in this series. (Photo submitted by Jim Troyanek) Early 1968: This photo, from CQ Magazine May 1968, shows the same configuration as in 1964 but the SP-600 receiver is gone. The oval speaker panel seen in the 1964 photo has been mounted in place of the SP-600 receiver. (CQ Magazine photo) January 1972: A Collins "dream" station being operated by Brian Sullivan, a naval rate. The equipment consists of 30S1 Linear Amp; 32S3; a Desk Console (hidden behind Jim); Xmtr-Exciter and 75S3 Receiver. (Photo submitted by Jim Troyanek) 1981 Primary station: Yaesu 901DM feeding an Alpha 274 linear amplifier attached to a 5-element Wilson monobander at 65 feet. Alert's primary calling frequency during this time was 14.165 MHz. (Photo courtesy Rigpix.com) 1981 Backup station: Kenwood TS-850 feeding a TH6 antenna at 50 feet. VE8RCS was located across from the barbershop in the same building that housed the CHANEX store. The room was about 12 x 15 feet in size. (Photo courtesy Universal Radio) 1996 - Inside: Yaesu FT-767 transceiver with Alpha RF amplifier. (Photo by Richard Nay, VE3RNY) 1996 - Outside: Looking south. The beam antenna in the foreground is a Hy-Gain TH7-DX and in the background a Hy-Gain TH-6 beam. In this era, the station also had Cushcraft AP-8 vertical antenna plus a multiband dipole. (Photo by Richard Nay, VE3RNY)
One Communications Research operator who was stationed at Alert provides this anecdote on obtaining a ham ticket. "I personally love CW. It was a major component of my Military Occupation Code -- Comm Research 291 Intercept Operator. I copy CW at 40-50 wpm and send at about 30. I failed the Morse section on my amateur radio examination in 1982 because the code was being sent at 5, 10 and 15 wpm. All I could hear was E's and T's. About 12 others besides myself all failed the Morse test as well. We demanded that the Radio Inspector get faster tapes. He went to the Operations Department and got the 25 and 30 wpm tapes. He thought he would beat us but we all aced the test. Sometime around 1984, Industry Canada, the amateur radio regulator, made one exception for the Morse test. Any 291 type who was field qualified could get their ticket without writing the Morse portion of the test since the trade qualification was 25 wpm. That was 10 wpm faster than what was required for the Advanced Operators certificate." In 2003, the minimum Morse requirement for qualification has dropped to 16 wpm as noted in a National Defence recruitment pamphlet.
When the UHF link from Alert to Eureka was installed in the early 1980's, it brought telephone service to Alert for the very first time. As a result, there was less for phone patches but a normal operating schedule was still maintained by VE8RCS. Being able to phone home from Alert became one of the "job benefits". Jim Troyanek explains. "We never paid to call home - it was one the benefits of being there. At first, and for several years afterwards, it was a strictly controlled service for the personnel of the base. I believe each person was allowed one 15-20 minute call per week. I remember the scheduling list where one would write their name in a "call time" slot. If I recall, there were two phones and they were constantly in use for most of a 24 hour period particularly in the summer when the summer crews were there. There was always someone behind you waiting to use the phone. That system was still in effect in 1986 when I was there, but by 1989 the restrictions had pretty much been lifted to allow personnel as many calls as they liked provided it was kept within reason. Call durations were monitored but as far as I know, there was no abuse of the system".
The installation of remote control equipment and capability in the 1997 time frame, resulted in the downsizing of the operations staff. Now, personnel stationed at CFS Leitrim, just south of Ottawa, could do all the monitoring functions formerly performed at Alert. This new capability also required that the satellite communications link from
Alert to CFS Leitrim (just south of Ottawa) be upgraded from a T1 speed (1.544 Mbps) to T2 (6.2 Mbps). The additional bandwidth now permitted the remaining maintenance personnel to use such appliances as a web camera to communicate with home thus rending phone patches and amateur radio obsolete.
This development sealed the fate of VE8RCS. Mike Lonneke (call sign HA/W0YR), in Budapest, Hungary announced the final date on 20 meter SSB. "In a QSO with VE8RCS on 12 May at 0848Z on 20 meter SSB, operator Steve at VE8RCS told me that amateur radio station VE8RCS on Ellesmere Island would be closing down on May 15th, 1997. Steve, an unlicensed but authorized operator who is studying for his own call, said the final QSOs from the world's farthest northerly station will terminate around 1000Z on May 15 after 30 years of operation. Steve said the conversion to full automation had been contemplated for some time but the project moved along much faster than anyone had thought. All we have left now is this 100 watt transceiver, the microphone and the 5 element Yagi. Everything else has been boxed up." VE8RCS also had a web page but that too is long gone. Due to the popularity of the site, all that's left now is trail of broken links.
A story about amateur radio communications in the RCN can be found here.
|2004: Station Chief Chris Dennahl chats to wife and son on the web cam. After Alert was downsized in 1997 and equipped to operate under remote control, that rendered amateur radio obsolete. Since those personnel who are left are not radio operators, they use the satellite link to contact home. (Photo by Alex Urosevic -- Toronto Sun)|
A local AM broadcast station had its beginnings in Alert in the mid 1960's starting with a power level of several watts and transmitting at the very bottom of the broadcast band. There is no evidence so far to suggest that broadcasts started before that time period.
Maurice Drew comments. "As I recall, Austin Moss, a civilian, was one of the first operators of the AM station. He used the unofficial call sign of ARS 17 which stood for for Alert Radio Station . An improvised studio was built by another civilian from Vancouver and also my room mate. There was no programming and we had only a few records which were played over and over and over. But it was a great diversion for those who thought they were providing a community service. I actually went "on the air" one day, by invitation, and read a news report from articles in several newspapers across Canada. The newspapers were several weeks old, as was the news, but it was done with tongue-in-cheek and provided a bit of a diversion from our daily routine".
Doug Hyslop remembers those early days. " When we put the AM station on the air, we did not have an official call sign since the intent was to broadcast for our own enjoyment only. We advised Ottawa and made them aware of the situation and were instructed to operate without a call sign until the Department of Transport could make up their minds as to what to do with the licensing arrangement.
The AM station was turned over to the stewardship of the CBC and when that happened, Alert started receiving better audio tapes, and records (45's and 78's). Even though some of these records were outdated, they were still welcomed. Additional momentum grew from there. With the help of the amateur radio station, we were able to broadcast some of the Stanley Cup hockey games with Foster Hewitt as the announcer. About three weeks after the Stanley Cup was over, we received the films of the games which were shown via our Bell and Howell projector in the mess hall canteen".
Ron Reyno, VE3RYN was a DJ on the AM radio station during one of his tours of duty (1962 and 1966) in Alert. He recalls. "The radio station was then known as ARS (Alert Radio Station) of the "Frozen Chosen". The AM frequency we used was 1340 kHz, with a mighty power output of 7 watts! The rad tech set the exciter to about that power level. We did hear, that on occasion, ARS was received at Thule Air Base when conditions were right, a range of about 700 km. Our antenna at the time was either a 10 or 15 ft whip antenna".
Based on deduction, it is believed that the AM radio station received its official call sign CHAR when it became part of the CBC . It is believed that this happened sometime after 1967 but before 1976.
A funny incident occurred at CHAR-AM in 1976. One of the DJ's had a immense liking for the Russian national anthem. He kept playing the anthem over and over. The Commanding Officer at the time, had had his fill of it so he marched over to the station, demanded the record and smashed it right there on the spot.
In 1980, CHAR switched over to FM 105.9. CHAR-FM's licence was renewed on September 1, 2005 and was effective until August 31, 2012. Chris Fewer provides this update in September 2007. "CHAR currently broadcasts on cable. The trivia program however, is done with a Power Point slide presentation detailing the questions via the in-house cable network on channel 11". This would suggest that the station no longer broadcast over the air.
In a letter received by the CRTC in November 2007, the Commanding Officer of the Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Alert has requested the revocation of its broadcasting licence for radio CHAR-FM since it ceased its operations approximately 1 February 2006. CHAR is now part of Alert's history. There are now three live TV feeds from Eureka (2 English, 1 French) as well as a movie channel operated from Alert.
|2004: Derek Gauthier, left, and Eric Payne, ran a popular trivia show on the base's CHAR 105.9 radio station. (Photo by Alex Urosevic -- Toronto Sun)|
|Now compare this mid 1960's scene of Gord "Brushface" Walker at the controls of CHAR-AM between 1965 and 1966. Locally, it was known as "Top of the World Radio". (Photo courtesy Gord Walker)|
For additional photos of Alert Radio Station, select this link.
In the summer of 1950, a weather station of the JAWS system was established at Alert along with an aeroradio station. Amateur radio also saw beginnings at the Met Station in the same year. It was established under call sign VE8ML and preceded the amateur radio station at the Alert Wireless Station. When both stations were active it was ultimately necessary to coordinate ham radio operations so that VE8ML would not interfere with VE8RCS and vice versa.
|Looking North towards the Lincoln Sea|
|CFS Alert base buildings|
|Almost due south showing Crystal Mountain (1290 ft) on the left and Mt. Pullen (1500 ft) on the right. Crystal Mountain is properly called "Dean Hill" according to map #MCE 140 printed in 1967. Both of these geographical features are approximately 9 miles (15 km) distant from Alert.|
|These three low-level aerial photos of Alert were taken by Eva Lee in the Summer of 2009 from the ultimate camera platform - a Sikorsky Sea King helicopter! Eva was a summer student hired by Environment Canada to work at the weather station.|
Lee Morrison who served at the weather station in 1951 and 1952, reminisces about supply provisioning.
"We were serviced twice annually by what we called the Spring and Fall airlifts. The airstrips were merely levelled off in summer with our small cats (a TD-9, a T-9 and a tiny D-2), with as little downcutting as possible, to avoid disturbing the permafrost. For the Spring airlift we cleared snow (between our regular radiosonde shifts) with those same little cats. Slow, cold work!
During the airlifts, the pilots were always "kind" enough to shut down the port engines but kept at least one starboard engine running. At -40°, that propwash, even from the opposite side of the aircraft, was a tad chilly. Cargo was unloaded on plank ramps and slid (manhandled) to the ground. If a fuel drum got away, we'd just let it roll and collect it when there was more time. The aircrew didn't dilly-dally at Alert!
The use of C-47s (DC-3s) was rare. The C-54s and North Stars did the bull work in servicing the stations. At Alert specifically, it was mostly USAF C-54s from Thule, Greenland that brought in the supplies. The North Stars were used mostly for the western stations (Isachsen and Mould Bay) and were loaded at Resolute Bay. I however do have a picture of a C-47 at the Alert airstrip but it was fitted with JATO boosters and was enroute to Ice Island T-3 to establish a U.S. weather station there".
John Gilbert provides excerpts from the document titled "Radio Communications in JAWS: A Five Year Report". Written in 1952, it says in part:
"Use of Amateur Radio - The use of radio station equipment for amateur radio transmissions has been authorized at all the Joint Arctic Weather Stations. The following amateur radio call signs have been assigned:
Mould Bay VE8MD
It was intended that the bulk of personal message traffic would be handled by amateur radio. However, provision was made that personal messages of an urgent nature would be accepted for transmission via official channels, if communications via amateur radio were not satisfactory. This arrangement has been extremely successful and the bulk of personal message traffic from the stations at Resolute, Alert, and Eureka has been passed via amateur radio. As a matter of fact, over a considerable period of time, daily schedules were kept by Alert and Eureka with Stan Surber, an amateur radio operator in Peru, Indiana, who relayed their personal messages. Amateur radio transmissions are made chiefly on the 20-metre band, using both voice and CW. However, excellent results were obtained at Resolute, using a 50-watt transmitter on the l0-metre amateur band in the spring of 1948. Weekly round-table discussions are held by the Joint Arctic Stations on the 75-metre amateur band to discuss mutual station problems and affairs".
John goes on to say: "The two original radio operators at Alert, starting in April 1950 were Stan Whiteman, W1MDZ (USWB) and Seldon Dow (DOT Radio). We have had extensive correspondence with Stan who remains active and has donated a number of pictures of his stay at Alert. Sel was active up to about five years ago and in contact with Jim Varabioff, who was the second Canadian operator at LT but we have had no contact with him in recent years. Jim G. Varabioff (from Kamsack, Sask) arrived at LT in Oct 50 and left in Oct 51. Jim later served at Mould Bay and was one of the initial operators at Sachs Harbour. We are in touch with him occasionally. Roy J. "Jim" Tarver, K6FKF is shown in the records as being at LT from May 51 to Apr 52. I notice that he is shown as active in the QRZ data base and would be most interested in contacting him to add his recollections to the history".
Ron Hutchinson provides some background info. "All the amateur stations in the high arctic JAWS weather station network were assigned amateur radio call signs under a VE8Mx series by the Department of Transport, the regulatory authority for communications in Canada at that time. I remember VE8MB was Mould Bay. I talked regularly with Eureka, Isachsen, Mould Bay, Pond Inlet, Cambridge Bay, Resolute Bay, Grise Fiord and a few others on 75 meters during the winter months and sporadically during the summer 24 hour daylight period. The High Arctic Net, as we came to call it, had a sked every night at 1900 on 3750 kHz2 and we would rag chew for hours sometimes. Some of those stations were really isolated and only comprised of 6 or 8 non-Inuit personnel so they were often anxious to talk to anyone they could".
|1951: Jim Tarver, K6FKF, operates VE8ML in the summer of 1951. He was with the US Weather Bureau and spent two years at Alert. Form left to right; Hammarlund HQ-129X receiver with tape recorder atop; stacked BC-348 receivers and stacked ART-13 transmitters. Note the "mill" at the ready, slots under the BC-348s for message forms and the bug, all ready to handle traffic. (Photo via Jim Traver)|
|VE8ML QSL. Click to enlarge. Station VE8ML started operating in the summer of 1950. It is believed that the station closed down in the mid 1980's. (Image courtesy WBExx0, MSN Groups)|
Dave Oldridge, VA7CZ, was employed by the DOT Meteorology Branch which later became Environment Canada. He explains some of the transmitting details at the Met station. "The transmitting site for Alert Wireless was in the general direction of Crystal Mountain and was located several miles from the base. It was called that due to the high composition of quartz crystals in its rocks. Remoted at their site was a high-power VHF station (126.9 MHz) which was used to communicate with commercial airliners flying over the North Pole.
The weather station was jointly run by the United States Weather Bureau (USWB) and Canada. We did have some equipment in parts of the DND site that we were permitted to access and maintain, but there were other sections where we just couldn't go due to security. All the JAWS stations used CHS call signs and Alert's call was was CHS25. Our point-to-point traffic was transmitted to VFR4 located at Resolute Bay.
Weather conditions were reported on the main CW transmitter, a 200 watt Collins unit operating on 5597.5 kHz into a dipole. Our backup was out at the military site and was a 2 kw transmitter which operated on 170.5 kHz into a loaded tower. When I first arrived in Alert on Nov. 9, 1964, the Army had borrowed this transmitter to replace one of their own that was down. Since this was our backup, they loaned us one of their large transmitters (5, maybe 8 kw?) and a rhombic antenna which we used on 5597.5. We did eventually get it back from them for standby service. Later, in 1969, when I was at Isachsen, (Nunavut) that same backup transmitter was incorporated into a radioteletype network that covered all of the JAWS stations.
There was also a seismologist on full-time duty, tending seismometers. And from time to time other scientific programs would be set up in our part of the base.
For VE8ML, we used Collins S-line equipment: 75S1 (receiver), 32S1 (transmitter) with a 30S1 (RF amp). I also had my personal Drake R4A (receiver) and T4X (transmitter) up there with me. In addition, we had an old Collins 32V3 transmitter (100 watt AM/CW) which I teamed with a 51J4 receiver a couple of old National Radio RTTY demodulator modules (modem and keyer) and a Model 15 teletype to give RTTY capability to VE8ML".
Today, VE8ML is gone just like VE8RCS. In the 1983 and 1984 Canadian Call Books, VE8ML was still listed and assigned to Department of Environment, 1000 - 266 Graham Ave., Winnipeg, R3C 3V4 but the call sign no longer existed in the 1988 Call Book. Since it might take 1 to 2 years for a call sign to be delisted from the book, it is believed that VE8ML closed its doors somewhere around 1985 or 1986.
David goes on. "It's not too commonly known, but Alert is subject to the same kind of Chinook phenomenon that is seen down around Lethbridge and Calgary. The United States range forms a barrier and when moist air blows up the south side of it from Davis Strait, it comes down the other side, dry and warm. This kind of weather, however, usually precedes a really stiff blow
One day while I was on duty I did my first synoptic observation (we did surface weather every three hours unless there was a flight coming in, in which case we escalated to hourly with specials for rapidly changing conditions). I went out and collected temperatures and stuff and dutifully coded up the -35F temperature along with the wind, dew point and other data and sent the observation in.
Three hours later I walked out and it was a rude shock! The temperature had risen to 35°F and it was drizzling a bit. I coded it up and sent it on out and got a message back in an hour or so from some meteorologist in Edmonton who flatly didn't believe me! He was SURE I had miscoded the temperature by leaving off the minus sign! I referred him to the current weather part of the report and asked if he thought that drizzle was at all likely at 35° below zero!
Some of our government meteorologists tended to be a little dogmatic about weather in places they had never been to. I recall one day that one of them protested a report from a meteorologist who was doing some research at Lake Hazen (about halfway to Eureka). He had reported a cumulonimbus cloud and the Edmonton meteorologist was absolutely sure that no such thing ever occurred in the Arctic, citing a meteorology textbook as his authority. The guy at Lake Hazen, very politely acknowledged the cite and promised to amend his book in the next edition!"
Earle Smith recalls one incident at the weather station. "At the JAWS site there were two radio operators/technicians. One had to be "medivaced" and no replacement could be found. As a result, I spent a most of January and February of 1958 working a 12 hour shift at the weather station following my 8 hour shift at the Alert Wireless. I usually slept in the weather station in between the scheduled transmission periods to Resolute Bay and Thule, Greenland. My ability to to run WX 5-figure traffic at 60 wpm certainly satisfied Resolute and Thule".
In 1971 the radio-meteorological station at Alert became a solely Canadian operation but staffed with civilians. Personnel also started to operate a super-neutron monitor for Atomic Energy of Canada. A short two years later, DND took over the operation of the Met station.
|This was one of the buildings no longer used at Alert as a result of a 1996 downsizing and consolidation program. It was likely demolished. (Photo courtesy Environment Canada)|
Today, the Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC) has a scientific research station of world-wide importance located at CFS Alert. Alert is the northern-most observatory in the World Meteorological Organization's Global Atmosphere Watch Network of stations that have been tracking the chemistry of the atmosphere on a global basis for several decades. Alert's location , far away from industrial pollution sources, and with no settlements within hundreds of kilometres, makes it the perfect place from which to monitor long term changes in the chemistry of the Earth's atmosphere.
During polar sunrise, Alert becomes a photochemical laboratory. Since it is located very near the geographic North Pole, Alert sees extended periods of darkness in winter and continuous sunlight in summer. This prolonged day-night cycle makes it a valuable place to carry out photochemistry experiments.
The pollutants, transported over long distances from southern latitudes, accumulate in the Arctic atmosphere during winter and then react in the first rays of sunlight in spring. The Polar Sunrise Experiments, designed to study this phenomenon, have attracted researchers from around the world and have resulted in significant scientific discoveries that have changed our understanding of chemical and physical processes in the atmosphere.
In February 1994, DND announced that Alert would be converted to remote operations by 1997-98. CFS Alert is now a remotely operated facility and staffing has been reduced from 215 to 74 personnel (2006), of whom only seven are directly employed in operations. The remaining 67 personnel are employed in airfield, construction engineering, food services and logistical/administrative support functions. Canadian Forces personnel, both men and women, from the navy, army and air force are employed in these support functions.
A Sun newspaper article dated November 14, 2004, provided readers with a glimpse of life at Alert. Here are some extracts from that article.
"A new war, defined by the attacks of 9/11 -- meant the Canadian northern front suddenly took on a high level of importance. In 2003, Ottawa spent over $32 million to update the stations communications equipment. As part of expenditures totalling billions for intelligence, Alert is seen as one of Canada's most important assets. Where once reels and reels of recording tape were gathered and flown out, today's raw data is sent directly to intelligence experts working at CFS Leitrim outside Ottawa via a satellite link.
The soldiers, a lot of them volunteers, serve six month postings -- divided by a three week vacation. Today, the food is as good as it ever was. TV's in various rooms show four channels of live television and another four of movies, played from the stations stock of 4,500 video and DVDs. Listening to the base's CHAR-FM 105.9 trivia shows are another popular pastime. Much of the station is devoted to recreation, with two gyms, a darkroom, a bowling alley and a theatre. Evenings are filled with activities -- multi-player computer games, woodworking, bingo, euchre and trivia. Most personnel volunteer to come here. Like a crew inside a submarine, the isolation and uniqueness of Alert pull people together and drive others apart -- earning them all the 50-year-old nickname of 'The Frozen Chosen.".
The only way to transport anything here is by air. Every year, the RCAF makes about 225 Hercules flights to Alert to bring in around two million litres of fuel and 300 tonnes of cargo. In addition to the weekly flights, supplies are shuttled in twice a year in massive operations involving dozens of flights to and from the nearest deep-water port, Thule, Greenland. The problem is, much of the time Canada's Hercules C-130 aircraft aren't flying. The resupply flights are routinely delayed 24 hours or cancelled altogether when planes are grounded by mechanical problems or diverted elsewhere by military priority.
Military physicians note most people gain weight after arriving. Those who aren't able to deal with the remoteness are weeded out before they touch down on the gravel and snow runway. "It's great to be here, but you must keep yourself busy all the time," says Station Warrant Officer Serge Oullet in 2004. "We try to get people to socialize with each other in off hours.""
2002 or 2003: This aerial photo shows the runaway at the top right and the main operations area at the lower left. The fuel used for heating the base is stored in the 8 tanks at centre left. (Photo courtesy Operation Boxtop web page)
ALERT's INFRASTRUCTURE TODAY
Although Alert has now been downsized, years of use have been accompanied by the generation of large quantities of waste. By 1995, Alert was producing 4 tons of combustible waste per week. As a result, DND developed a plan to remove unused structures, clean up the landfill and manage the waste problem.
An incinerator was determined to be the best way to destroy the solid and liquid waste that had accumulated. In 1998 Ken Johnson, P.Eng. wrote on this topic in an article titled "Canadian Forces Station Alert: Engineering at Canada's Frozen Edge". Here are some excerpts from that article.
"Transportation in and out of Alert relies solely upon aircraft, and in particular, the C-130 Hercules. Alert has one regularly scheduled flight each week from Canadian Forces Base Trenton, which is 4000 kilometres to the south. The Hercules and the occasional civilian aircraft utilize a 5000 foot gravel airfield with a 900 foot overrun.
The 'Herc' is an amazing transportation workhorse that not only airlifts the weekly supply of perishable essentials for the station, but also airlifts for the entire wet (fuel) and dry (all other materials) resupply for the station. The resupply is completed in two fourteen day periods during the fall of each year in an operation referred to as Operation Boxtop, which requires round trip flights from the Thule Airbase 600 kilometres to the south in Greenland.
|In a scene which has been repeated thousands of times, the venerable C-130 Hercules takes off from Alert on the usual once-weekly resupply flight. Occassionally, flight schedules are delayed due to inclement weather. (Museum of Science and Technology photo #2695)|
George Stewart, Supply and Transportation Officer for the Information Management Group, provides this summary of fuel delivery to Alert.
“In the beginning fuel oil was delivered to Alert in 45 gallon drums using CC119 “Flying Boxcar” aircraft. These drums were then delivered directly to the buildings. Later, (date unknown) a ground buried piping system was installed and the fuel was gravity fed from a "Day Tank" which was fed from a series of fuel tanks.
Starting in the mid 1960’s and lasting until 1991, fuel was delivered in five 500 imperial gallon rubber bladders plumbed together in the cargo compartment of a CC130 Hercules aircraft.
Next came the system which is still in use in 2007 and that is the " Bulk Fuel Delivery System" . This consists of an several aluminum tanks which are locked into the CC-130 aircraft cargo compartment and carries a max of 4000 imperial gallons but approximately 3500 imperial gallons is the usual load.
The station went on to have ten 12,000 imperial gallon tanks installed at the airfield followed by two 50,000 gallon tanks for Diesel Fuel Arctic Grade (DFA), and eight 50,000 imperial gallon tanks installed in the Upper Station. In addition, two 50,000 imperial gallon JP-4 tanks were also installed at the airfield.
During the 1992/93 time period, the ten 12,000 gallon tanks at the airfield were replaced by two 100,0000 imperial gallon tanks DFA tanks. Then , in 1994/95 the Upper Tank Farm was replaced by the current eight 100,000 gallon tanks which feed a 6700 imperial gallon tank which continues to gravity feed the station.
Since the station is now under remote control and there are substantially less personnel manning it, fuel consumption has been reduced considerably to an annual level of approx 550,000 imperial gallons most of which is used for power generation”.
Over the years, the military has constructed roads in the area to permit patrolling, as well as for logistics purposes from shore locations near anchorages east of the station, as well as to the airfield. Transportation around the station makes use of a variety of wheeled and tracked vehicles, on a limited length of roads. The most significant roads provide access to the water supply, 4 kilometres from the base, and the atmospheric observatory operated by Environment Canada. Vehicles are kept running 24 hours per day during the winter months in order to minimize vehicle freezing problems, and wheel blocks are used instead of hand brakes.
A recent change in station transportation has been the conversion to a common fuel (JP8) for all engines on the station, including the power supply generators. This simple change in operations has greatly improved the waste management practices for the station by accommodating bulk fuel supply for the majority of the base operations and reducing the need for fuel supplied in barrels.
CFS Alert, like many northern facilities, has suffered from the accumulation of thousands of fuel supply barrels over its operating life. The use of barrels presents problems for resupply, organization on site, and management of old barrels, many of which are partially full and poorly marked. The transition to a common bulk fuel on the station has reduced the resupply and organization problems, and a program to catalogue and appropriately dispose of the old barrels, and their contents has reduced the problem of managing old barrels.
Potable water for the station is pumped four kilometres from Dumbbell Lake in an above ground insulated high density polyethylene water line with a smaller recirculating water line. The three water intake points in Dumbbell Lake are positioned well below the thick ice which forms on the lake. The water is chlorinated and stored in 2 - 50,000 gallon storage tanks in the water building, and the water is distributed above ground throughout the station with an independent piped recirculating system. The station is also served with an insulated high density polyethylene gravity sewer which discharges into a natural lagoon open to the ocean.
|Alert's water intake at Dumbell Lake. By 1980, with 200+ personnel at the base, water consumption had grown to more than 70,000 litres per day. (Photo courtesy Canada Info)|
A solid waste management program for the base has implemented a segregation program to employ either recycling for transportation south, or incineration at the station. A landfill site is still utilized for the incineration residue.
Alert has a total of six engine powered generators to serve the station. Four main generators each have a capacity of 850 kilowatts, and two backup generators each have a capacity of 1600 kilowatts. The station can normally operate on two of the main generators, and the excess power generating capability provides several levels of backup to this isolated post.
Canadian Forces may occasionally joke that is the Russians who justify the presence at Canada's frozen edge, however this threat has significantly decreased since the end of the Cold War. The Canadian military personnel at CFS Alert, in addition to their communications research analysts down south , are in fact asserting Canadian sovereignty to the world's most northerly inhabited place".
In spite of its $20 million a year operating cost (2005), intelligence gathering remains as important as it ever was. Ottawa allocated $32 million in 2003 to overhaul Alert's data communication system. Alert will not be closing its doors anytime soon although there are initiatives in progress to further reduce operating costs.
|1. Geography||2. Technical & Operations|
|3. HADCS||4. Amateur Radio|
|5. People||6. Memorabilia|
|7. Scenes||8. Animals|
|9. Structures||10. Vehicles and Station Systems|
|11. Alert's 50th Anniversary||12. Stories|
|Faces of the Frozen Chosen|
|Jim Troyanek's Alert Web Page|
|How Alert (JAWS) Was Built|
In May 2006, DND started an initiative plan to replace half of its personnel at Alert with contract workers. "We do have excess infrastructure that we're maintaining right now," said Maj. Gioseph Anello, who is in charge of the Alert modernization project, a multi-year effort to par down costs at the station. "We have support people supporting support people, and we're really trying to get down to the most efficient organization."
By mid 2006, DND will open a bidding process for contractors to run the kitchen, accommodations, buildings and vehicles at the station. Hopes are that the contract can begin by November, but Anello said neither the exact number of personnel cut nor the estimated savings will be clear until proposals are received.
With 72 full-time personnel who rotate in and out on six-month terms, Alert costs the military about $30 million a year to operate. Contractors could run the station for less by multi-tasking their employees, said Anello.
"As an example, the (contracted) driver of the truck can maintain that truck, off-load the truck and load the truck," he said. "In the military we would have the driver, a mechanic and a traffic guy." The military also hopes to save on diesel fuel, by cutting heat to some of the station's 90 buildings in winter. The planned changes will not affect the station's capabilities.
On April 1, 2008, the Canadian Airforce officially took over the responsibility of Alert from CFIOG. The
numbers of personnel in Alert continues to dwindle and most of the support staff will eventually be contracted. In order to ensure that the artifacts in Alert that are deemed "museum pieces" are handled appropriately, a team of two will be be flown to Alert to accession the surviving artifacts.
The Canadian Forces CC-177 Globemaster III made its first appearance during Operation BOXTOP on August 17, 2010. With its much greater carrying capacity, the CC-177 strategic aircraft can move approximately three times more cargo to CFS Alert on each trip than was done with the CC-130 Hercules. The CC-177 made its inaugural landing at CFS Alert on April 14, 2010 and has operated regularly in the Arctic ever since. Canada’s four CC-177 Globemaster IIIs, which are operated by 429 Transport Squadron from 8 Wing Trenton, Ont., were delivered in 2007 and 2008 and have given the Canadian Forces unprecedented strategic reach and agility.
During Operation BOXTOP, which runs day and night, the Canadian Air Force runs supplies to the station each spring and fall. Over the last 20 years, the mission has averaged an annual delivery of approximately 294,000 kilograms of dry goods and 2.5 million litres of fuel into CFS Alert.
Only six months later, Canada’s new CC-130J Hercules, flown by its crew from 436 Transport Squadron at 8 Wing Trenton, Ont., landed at Alert for the first time on Monday, September 20, 2010. The aircraft was participating in a regular resupply mission but also flying out two drums of hazardous waste from the North, doing their part as good stewards of the environment.
The familiar CC-130 Hercules is a mainstay of the Canadian Forces’ (CF) transport fleet. The new J model Hercules, which was taken on strength on June 4, 2010, enables troops to conduct safer and more effective operations at home and abroad. The CC-130J is a four-engine, fixed-wing turboprop aircraft that can carry up to 92 combat troops or 128 non-combat passengers. It is used for a wide range of missions, including troop transport, tactical airlift (both palletized and vehicular cargo) and aircrew training.
While on the outside the CC-130J looks almost identical to the older Hercules, internally the J model Hercules is essentially a completely new aircraft. The new "Hercs" fly faster, higher and farther, and they carry heavier loads while burning less fuel. They can use shorter landing and take-off fields and their climb time is reduced by up to 50 per cent compared to the older models. They deliver cutting edge technology to provide the Canadian Forces with a modern, cost-effective, operationally-proven tactical airlift capability.
1. Listed in the SUPRAD Consolidation Plan. May 1966. http://watserv1.uwaterloo.ca/~brobinso/srsmay66.html
2. Up to the mid 1960's frequency was expressed as cycles per second (c/s) as opposed to the more modern term Hertz (Hz)
3. G.D. Nagy reported in 1978 (G.D. Nagy, Power Supplies For Arctic Radio Repeater Systems, Report No. 787 and document PDP G1413, Alert-Ottawa Medium Data Rate Communication System, file 3656-5-1413, 19 August 1976, (draft).
4. Delisted as a result of editing.
5. Delisted as a result of editing.
6. Government Activities in the North, 1982-83.
7. Government Business Opportunities, 28 October 1992
8. In 1993, Government Business Opportunities [19 May 1993, p. 8] confirmed that the digital data link (circuit) in support of Project Hurricane connects the Sir Leonard Tilley Building, Ottawa, Ontario, and Eureka, Northwest Territories." The dish at the Tilley Building is presumably the CSE dish located just south of the heating plant in the Confederation Heights complex. This dish was installed in late 1981 or early 1982 [comparison of air photos A25708-11 and A25960-130, National Air Photo Library].
9. "Military Communications in the Canadian Arctic," B. Landmark, ed., Arctic Communications, MacMillan, 1964.
10. [P.J. Pratley, "Some Experiences with Military Communications in the Canadian Arctic," Kristen Folkestad, Ionospheric Radio Communications, Plenum Press, 1968;
11. [Letter from Col J.G. Boulet, Dir Information Services, DND, to Peter Chapman, April 1986]
12. CD 3655016, Unattended Radio Relay Station. Honeywell Incorporated,
March 3, 1976.
13. Minutes of Progress meeting on Arctic Repeater Station, Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Oct. 4 and 5, 1976.
14. DND Task DCEM 30, "Research and Development Support on Power Supplies for Arctic Radio Repeater Systems", DREO PCN 25A29."
15. Visitor's Guide To Eureka.
16. Doug was not the first ham to contact Little America at the South Pole from Alert. Earle Smith did it first when he made several AM contacts between Alert and Little America in 1957-58 using call sign VE8AT.
17. Can anyone confirm the exact chronology of the first call useage? Jim Thoreson who was posted to Alert between Jan 1962 to Aug 1962 does not recall the AM station being on the air. Did the station go into hibernation for a while?
18. An RA117A receiver is identified by the screwdriver operated VFO selector switch to the right of the BFO adjustment knob. An RA17 does not have this. Other less subtle indications of it being an RA-117 are: 1) The front end tuning knob is labelled RF Tune on an RA117 and ANT Tune on RA-17s- 2) Same goes for the front end attenuator switch (RF and ANT). 3) The speaker switch on an RA-17 is labelled ON and OFF 4) The RA17 has a tube count varying between 22 and 24 depending on the variant while an RA-117 has a tube count of 26.
Contributors and References:
1) Jim Troyanek <intarsia(at)shaw.ca> for various material.
2) Ray White e-mail: <r.p.white(at)sympatico.ca>
3) http://www.canoe.ca/NewsStand/TorontoSun/News/highalert.html (Nov , 2004) by ALEX UROSEVIC -- Toronto Sun
4) Doug Hyslop <flagstaf(at)nbnet.nb.ca>
5) Spud Roscoe <spudroscoe(at)eastlink.ca>
7) Alert Badge courtesy Bill Robinson
8) Equipment and Capabilities http://web.archive.org/web/20040406002105/watserv1.uwaterloo.ca/~brobinso/alert.html
9) Terry Murphy <va3trm(at)sympatico.ca>
10) Eureka Description http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eureka%2C_Nunavut
11) Project Hurricane Info (extracts) http://www.geocities.com/eureka2000_ca/
13) Bruce Forsyth's Canadian Military History Page http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/Quarters/2529/
15) Engineering at Canada's Frozen Edge: http://www.members.shaw.ca/cryofront/V4-n2.htm
16) Professor Jean Heroux of the Environmental Engineering Research Group at the Royal Military College, Kingston
17) Major Barron Meyerhoffer, Directorate of Information Management Operational Direction 5 (DIMOD 5), DND.
18) Canada Info http://www.craigmarlatt.com/canada/security&defence/alert.html
19) Alert Signpost http://www.sciencetech.technomuses.ca/english/whatson/arcticApril03.cfm
20) Echo Waste Solutions http://www.ecosolutions.com/p-77.htm
22) Ohio/Penn DX Bulletin No. 305 May 19, 1997, http://www.ng3k.com/Ohpadx/ohpa305.html
23) Mail List http://www.farmallcub.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=6829&view=next&sid=ff5ac6b86cf7ab346073c8d2132b656b
24) National Defense Recruitment Brochure CS 03-0305
25) Griff Toole - http://members.platinum.ca/toolemg/
26) Environment Canada http://www.msc-smc.ec.gc.ca/acsd/publications/RMD_msc_report/knowledge/knowledge_1_e.html
27) SUPRAD Consolidation Plan. May 1966. http://watserv1.uwaterloo.ca/~brobinso/srsmay66.html
RELEASED UNDER AIA. INFORMATION UNCLASSIFIED
28) Richard Nay VE3RNY, Ex V01RQ, Ex VE8RCS <rnay(at)cogeco.ca> 1996 VE3RCS equipment photos.
29) Earle Smith ve6nm(at)rac.ca
30) Ron Hutchinson VE3NG <hutch(at)isp.com>
32) Dave Oldridge, VA7CZ, <doldridg(at)shaw.ca>
33) BC-610 image http://www.eht.com/oldradio/arrl/2004-04/April-2004.htm
34) Military Downsizes Alert. CanWest News Service; Edmonton Journal new article by Nathan VanderKlippe..
35) CARF info - http://www.rac.ca/service/history.htm
36) Zinc Air battery info http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1989STIN...9020319G
36) Thermin II Info: http://spsenergy.com/pages/powerSolutions/pdf/projectSummaries/SPS_DND_Telecom.pdf
37) Solar Power Revolunionizes HADCS II. http://www.vcds.forces.gc.ca/dgsc/pubs/bravo/fall04/arctic_e.asp
38) Operation Boxtop web page http://www.lockheedmartin.com/data/assets/4094.pdf
39) Ron Reyno. VE3RYN <ronmar40(at)cogeco.ca>
40) Visitor's Guide To Eureka. http://www.etl.noaa.gov/programs/search/eureka/files/SiteInfo/Visitor's%20Guide%20to%20Eureka%202004-1.doc
41) Military Routing Indicvators Page http://www.milspec.ca/others/cdnrtg.html
42) Chris Fewer <chrisfewer(at)gmail.com>
43) John Gilbert <jgilbert(at)ca.inter.net>
44) Gary Westhouse, VE3NIT
45) Mitch VE6OH <mitch(at)andor.net>
46) Maurice Drew <maurice0404(at)rogers.com
47) The Establishment of Alert N.WT. by J. Peter Johnstone Jr.
48) Dan Gillis <mabelle(at)look.ca>
49) Dr. John Strickland, Diversitel Communications <jstrickland(at)diversitel.ca>
51) CHAR revocation http://www.crtc.gc.ca/archive/ENG/Decisions/2007/db2007-422.htm
52) Alert, Beyond The Inuit Lands. David R. Gray. Borealis Press. Ottawa Ont. 1997
53) Mike Rowlands <rowlands(at)magma.ca>
54) Brian Goldsmith <brian.goldsmith(at)echo1.com.au>
55) Dale Janisse <Dale.Janisse(at)blackbox-vs.com>
56) TS850 photo <http://www.universal-radio.com/catalog/hamhf/ts850s.html>
57) DM901 photo < http://www.rigpix.com/yaesu/ft901dm.htm>
58) QST Magazine, July 1981.
59) Robert Reive <robert.reive(at)gmail.com>
60) Eva Lee <evaa.lee(at)gmail.com>
61) Lee Morrison <morrile2(at)telus.net>
62) Stu Brown Winnipeg MB <stuartlb(at)shaw.ca>
63) Brian Kebic
64) CC-130 crash http://www.rcaf-arc.forces.gc.ca/8w-8e/nr-sp/index-eng.asp?id=11229
Last revised: Jan27/14