Video: Fighting Falcons Over Greenland

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Extraordinary footage reveals story behind deployment of F-16s to Greenland -- the first time the Royal Danish Air Force has deployed fighters to the region.

When Major John Kristensen of the Royal Danish Air Force (RDAF) uploaded in-cockpit video footage of Greenland taken from his F-16 to the Internet, he was more than surprised by the interest it generated.

The footage -- which has gathered more than 400,000 hits on YouTube -- was also picked up by blogs and newspapers showing the stunning landscapes the vast island has to offer.

If you haven’t already seen the video, make sure you view it in High Definition!

But the footage also shows the strategic value of the country to Denmark.

While Greenland is mostly autonomic, Denmark retains control of the country’s foreign affairs and defense. In recent years, it has become more concerned about the growing militarisation of the Arctic as countries look to the region for rare earth minerals and deposits of oil and gas.

The three-day deployment of F-16s to Kangerlussuaq/Sondrestrom airport from August 5-7 was the first time Denmark had dispatched fighters to Greenland.

The aim was to test if it could be done, and see what challenges would be faced once there.

“If a picture says a 1,000 words, then a video says many more,” said Kristensen in a interview with a Aviation Week at the Belgian Air Force’s annual airshow at Kleine Brogel, on Sept. 13.

Kristensen, who is deputy commander of the RDAF’s 730 Esk unit, was the detachment commander for the mission to Greenland, and was selected for his experience of flying the RDAF’s Gulfstream IIIs in Greenland.

Denmark regularly sends its fleet of Bombardier Challenger CL604s to Greenland for fisheries patrol and sovereignty missions, but the F-16s required significantly more equipment, emergency cables for the runways and liquid oxygen for the fighters, something which is not widely produced in Greenland, all had to be transported by C-130J Hercules.

Kristensen and his team also had to consider issues such as pilot survival in the harsh and remote environment. Flights over ice and glaciers were considered as hazardous as those overwater, and all flights had to be escorted by the Challenger, particularly those over water so that in the event of an ejection. The Challenger would be able to drop a life raft to the downed pilot, allowing him to stay out of the cold water for up to 12 hours until a nearby ship could collect him. Few helicopters are available for rescue missions in the region.

Pilots also had adapt their clothing, adding an immersion suit and layers to wick away sweat to ensure they were comfortable during long flights.

GPS systems were found to take more time to get a satellite signal in the high north, Kristensen said, and radio coverage is also limited.

Kristensen says there are now plans for a larger scale exercise, which could see 6-8 F-16s deployed for 2-3 three weeks sometime between the spring and fall of 2015.

A key part of such a deployment will be the use of the newly integrated Litening G4 targeting pod to assist Danish map makers in producing a new set of shipping charts for the eastern coastline. The Litening pods will use their geo-location capability to plot points along the coastline which the chart makers can combine with satellite imagery to produce more accurate charts, improving safety for shipping along the eastern coastline.

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