Weather conditions in Deadhorse make it the ideal setting for the US military's winter readiness tests. And the Deadhorse Aviation Center (DAC) is the perfect base of operations.
"We have the infrastructure and support staff to help them out." says Timothy Cudney. who has served as director of the DAC since 2013. "We have the hangars and the meats; we've had times where we've had 150 soldiers sleeping on the floor in the hangar, with the command team in the regular DAC offices and accommodations."
Cudney says the military exercises take place every other year, and next month will be the fourth he's seen since he came onboard. The military sends a staff of roughly 50 to Deadhorse ahead of the exercise to set up. with DAC staff on standby to assist as needed.
"It's all quiet on the western front until 50 show up, and then another 150 show up," he says. That was the case during a February exercise a few years ago, when temperatures at attitude were -60[degrees]F. About 160 paratroopers were flown out to jump, after which they trekked across the Arctic tundra to the DAC to rest, warm up, and have a meal in the dining hall, Cudney says.
The exercises are routine for the military, but they can still surprise DAC staff.
"Here we are waiting for them all to come in. and we see them being carried in with frostbite, broken ankles, and back injuries from landing on their tailbones," Cudney recalls.
The military isn't a regular presence at the DAC, Cudney says, but they highlight the uniqueness that accompanies running an Arctic aviation center located at "the end of the world."
Situated at the end of Deadhorse Airport's Runway 5, the DAC was originally conceived as a single-client, multi-purpose facility to support Shell Oil Company's offshore activities in the Beaufort Sea, says Rick Fox, CEO of Fairweather, which co-owns the DAC with Offshore Support Services (an Edison Chouest company) and Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation.
In 2006 Sherron Perry. Fairweather's founder and first CEO, and Shell entered into an agreement for Fairweather to build the DAC, with construction beginning that year. But when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals placed an injunction on Shell's exploration activities the following year, the oil giant negotiated out of the lease, leaving a building with no tenant.
"At that point, the building was closed in but there was no build out in the interior," Fox says. "So. you just had a metal building. A nice metal building, but...