C-54 honors the Berlin Airlift

This year Sun ‘n Fun paid special tribute to veterans, especially those who served in World War II.

But sometimes people forget that a few scant years after the end of the war, the Allies were flying into Germany again, this time bringing food, medical supplies and coal to the people of Germany who were cut off from the West by the Russian blockade.

Known as “Operation Vittles” to soldiers, it went down in the history books as “The Berlin Airlift.”

“A lot of people don’t remember it,” admits Timothy Chopp, president of the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation. “That’s why we are here. We are an educational organization.”

The “classroom” is a C-54, made into a traveling exhibit. The C-54 was used extensively during the airlift.

For a small donation to offset the cost of the C-54 coming to Sun ‘n Fun, visitors were invited to climb the stairs and go back in time.

Big Band-era music played as you stepped inside the fuselage and back into history. Along the bulkheads are display cases with models of the aircraft used in the airlift, along with newspaper accounts of the event and lots and lots of photographs.

Many of the visitors were men who had flown in the airlift.

“I have lots of time in RD-5s, which was the Navy version of the C-54,” said a 90-year old visitor.

“That’s what this used to be,” stated Earl Block, a member of the Berlin Airlift Heritage Foundation, who stood in the aircraft and acted as docent to the visitors. “This aircraft actually flew in the airlift.”

The airlift was before Block’s time but, like the other members of the foundation, he has a keen interest in sharing the history of the airlift with future generations.

A member of the next generation is copilot on the aircraft. Jason Capra, 20, from Pittsburgh, is marking his second year in the right seat.

“I met them when they came to an airport where I grew up. I was in the fifth grade at the time,” Capra said. “I got interested in it, and when I was in the eighth grade I saw them again and asked them if I could volunteer and join them. I’ve been with them ever since and I plan on staying with them until I die.”

Capra is a junior at Robert Morris University. When he’s not in school he is a charter pilot. Eventually he plans to go on to fly for an airline.

“I’m very lucky to be able to do what I do,” he said. “How many 20-year-olds get to fly something like this?”

The aircraft is cable-controlled, so it takes a lot of muscle to get it into the sky, even when not fully loaded, he said, adding “which really makes you respect the guys who flew them fully loaded.”

The Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation plans to add a second aircraft. A C-97 awaits restoration in Greybull, Wyo.

“We plan to get her into the air too,” said Chopp. “We also plan to add more display cases to the C-54 so we can include more information.”

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