During the Cold War, the Royal Canadian Air Force mounted a highly classified series of operations code-named APEX ROCKET. These dangerous missions involved close observation and even overflights of Soviet drift ice stations in the Arctic. One operation with the Americans resembled the Alastair Maclean novel “Ice Station Zebra.” RCAF aircraft were also involved in collecting the aerial debris from Soviet nuclear tests. Aspects of APEX ROCKET and the sampling programme remain classified today, including the exact reason for the loss of one Lancaster aircraft.
A shorter version of this article appeared in Maclean’s magazine. One APEX ROCKET participant wrote in to complain that I’d made the missions overly-dramatic. Well, sorry Group Captain: flying a decade-old Lancaster bomber over the North Pole using 1950’s era navigation technology against a target with unknown capabilities seems pretty dangerous and dramatic to me living in the world of GPS, the instant net, hurt feelings at universities, the existence of a product called anti-bacterial soap and the plethora of bubble wrapped children in the suburbs.