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Arctic hangar: what was there beneath the ice

Since the ice has been removed from inside the hangar, restoration can take place, according to the expert

ARKHANGELSK, November 11. /TASS/. Restorers have removed the ice from the oldest wooden hangar in the Arctic, which is on the Hooker Island, Tikhaya Bay, Franz Josef Land. The Russian Arctic National Park’s representative Evgeny Yermolov told TASS about a few interesting discoveries.

Since the ice has been removed from inside the hangar, restoration can take place, he added.

"Inside the hangar there was a huge ice mountain, reaching right to the top of the roof," he said. "The ice has been removed, it was a huge job. It’s incredible. The ice mountain covered various objects, which the experts were extracting very carefully."

Ice cutting effort 

The hangar remained idle since 1960. It was covered by a few layers of plywood, which had cracks through which snow would get inside, and over decades the building of a height of a three-floor house got filled with snow to the very roof. The snow that amassed inside was far from being fluffy — it was hard like rock. The building’s restoration is conducted jointly by the national park and the Arctic Museum and Exhibition Center (St. Petersburg).

In the very beginning of the expedition, the experts hoped to make the ice thaw with hot water, "but it did not work out, and in the end the conclusion was — nothing is more effective than a chainsaw," he continued. "So, we cut ice with chainsaws, and, when needed, used a crowbar."

"That’s what you may call modern technologies," TASS interlocutor said smiling.

Everyone had to work very delicately not to smash items hidden beneath the ice.

The project participants hoped to find a small plane in the ice since a part of the wing stuck out. But they could find only parts of the wings. "We’ve discovered the front edge of the wing, and it was colored red. It is very untypical. Mostly, there were regular green planes," the historian said. "In fact, colors of those Arctic planes are a mystery, as on black-and-white pictures red and green look the same, and we do not have any color pictures."

The plane could have been painted red as part an experiment. Some diaries say the first planes, which in 1936 got to Franz Josef Land, were red. However, nobody can say, whether the planes were fully painted red or not. "Some literature sources say they were painted dark-cherry to make sure they are seen well on the snow," the expert noted.

The colors of Soviet Arctic planes in the 1930s-1940s are a subject of separate research, he continued. "We have welcomed a researcher from Norway, he studies colors of planes and restores paint fragments," the pundit told TASS. "I hope, we shall learn something new. He’s taken fragments and said chemists would make tests and say what color was used."

Wooden propeller and other articles

The ice hid other interesting artefacts. The project participants dubbed one of them as "Karlsson’s propeller." It was a boat propeller cut out of wood. "Interestingly, it is wooden and red," the expert said. "However, I cannot imagine how a wooden propeller could be used for sailing amid the ice."

Another interesting object they uncovered was a cradle for babies. "It is tiny, not a bed, but a cradle — high, but very small," he pointed out. Unfortunately, it is badly damaged and will undergo restoration. Earlier, scientists found a children’s bed in the hangar — it is exhibited in Arkhangelsk now. At least eleven children were born at the Tikhaya Bay station.

Besides, the researchers found in the ice many hand tools, a gas-fueled generator and a big fire pump, which must have been made before the revolution of 1917. By late 1930s, the hangar was not used for planes but as a storage.

All the dug up objects will be restored and showcased at the Russian Arctic National Park’s museum. Some of them following the revamp will return to Tikhaya Bay to form part of the exposition at the station.

A rock view

The national park’s representative told TASS that initially the architects had an idea of making the hangar’s facade that overlooks the sea transparent. Then travelers would be able to see what’s inside without stepping in while from indoors one could admire a scenic view of the bay and the Rubini Rock, which is nicknamed a "singing" one as it is home to a huge bird colony.

However, technical problems did not allow designers to make the wall transparent. "In the long run, the decision was to leave a transparent strip on the eyes level," the national park’s representative said. "Thus, from inside you can see the beauty: the Tikhaya Bay panorama, the Rubini Rock, the Scott-Kelty Island, and the strait."

The hangar is absolutely hermetic now: the lined plywood panels protect it from precipitation. In 2020, experts will begin working on the interior.

The Tikhaya Bay polar station was operational on the Hooker Island between 1929 and 1960. The wooden hangar for airplanes was built there in 1932. As a new station on the Heiss Island opened, the station on the Hooker Island was closed. In 1972, the station on the Heiss Island was named to commemorate Ernst Krenkel, who worked on the North Pole-1 drifting ice station.

The Russian Arctic National Park is Russia’s northernmost and biggest nature reserve, which occupies an area of 8.8 million hectares. It was established on June 15, 2009. The Park includes a northern part of the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago’s Severny Island and the entire Franz Josef Land Archipelago.