Hams on Ice

Having a little more free time (thanks to the lock-down), I found myself flipping through the pages of a 1959 edition of the Yasme News a few days ago when the article, “DX on 6” by Grid Gridley, W4GJO sorta jumped out at me. After all this is one of those times of the year when 50 MHz tries to live up to its billing as the “Magic Band” and I guess I’ve been on the prowl for stories about it.

The article opened right up with Bob, KG1FN on Fletchers Ice Island who was regularly working the boys as far down as Moline, Illinois on 6 meters. That was enough mystery to keep me reading. After all, the call sign didn’t seem right and I had never heard of Fletcher’s Ice Island. Was this a new DX entity that’s been hiding in plain sight?

But neither mystery was solved in this short treatise. It was written as though any decent DX enthusiast in 1959 would know the odd call sign and where to point to it on a map and it became obvious that a little more sleuthing was in order.

Searching online for KG1FN made quick work of solving both mysteries. “Hams on Ice” was the title of a January 1960 QST magazine article where the sub-title spilled the beans, “Six-Meter DX Operation at Fletcher’s Ice Island, T3”.

KG1FN was a MARS issued call sign reflecting a Greenland origin and also seemed appropriate for the “Frozen North” location though the author notes that was later modified to mean “Frozen Nose”.

And it turns out that Fletcher’s Ice Island, or T3, was discovered by U.S. Air Force Colonel Joseph O. Fletcher. It was produced by the northern coast of Ellesmere Island and was a 150-foot thick slab of ice roughly five by ten miles in size floating in the Arctic Ocean. According to the article, it had served as a scientific station and home for as many as two-dozen scientists and military personnel over the years.

It was also a prime spot for adventurous amateur radio operators who used the extreme northern location as a laboratory for radio propagation from the heart of the auroral environment. The fact that the island was in motion made working the experimental station a challenge as it was literally a moving target.

The QST article details the unusual propagation conditions observed as well as descriptions of the camp, the equipment used, radio activity, lessons learned, and a list of the numerous operators who disturbed the aether from T3.

Polar bears were also along for the ride prompting personnel to always carry a rifle, “just in case”. It’s enjoyable reading!

I wondered whatever became of Fletcher’s Ice Island and quickly discovered that it was used as a manned scientific drift station from 1952 until 1978.

Eventually, several large cracks in the ice were observed and the station was forced to relocate itself away from its original location. A few years later when the ice floe cracked again and shortened the runway sufficiently to terminate aircraft resupply operations, the station had to be evacuated.

Still, the outpost remained sporadically active until 1974, and was last visited in 1979. After being monitored by satellite for over 30 years, the iceberg eventually drifted through the Fram Straight in 1983.

Then on July 3, 1983, came a report that U.S. scientists had rediscovered the iceberg after it had been missing for six months. The ice floe was spotted about 150 miles from the North Pole and easily identified as its surface was distinctly decorated by remaining structures and an aircraft wrecked there years before. At the time of this discovery, the iceberg was only one-third of its original thickness.

Sometime after July 1983, the iceberg worked its way to the outside of the Arctic ice pack where it caught a southern current, drifting off into the Atlantic Ocean where it melted away.


  1. Yasme News Volume 1 Number 2 October-November 1959
  2. QST Magazine January 1960
  3. Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fletcher%27s_Ice_Island
Jeff Davis, KE9V, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Indiana, USA.

2 Responses to “Hams on Ice”

  • John Gianotti:

    Ah, sounds like the good old days. Back in the late ’60s I worked for 3 years at a commercial TV station (WTWO 2, an NBC affiliate in Terre Haute, Indiana). Great times and a great job. Almost stayed with them as they were paying a lot more than I got teaching electronics!!! The chief engineer was a ham (as were most of the crew) and one of them started me on my ham career by donating an old Glove Scout (or was it a chief?) to get me on the road to ruin! This was in the days when stations went off the air after the tonight show . . . and they played the start spangled banner before sign-off. Chief engineer would load up the channel 2 (just next to the 6 meter band) and play rare DX with a gain antenna on top of a 1,000 foot tower. Talk about rare DC.

  • David KJ4CMY:

    Cool! I would bet the chief engineer had plenty of DX!

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