Elizabeth City , N.C. — Last December, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen had children jumping for joy when he sailed chocolates aloft on tiny parachutes from the “Spirit of Freedom,” a restored 1945 Douglas C-54 aircraft. The “Candy Bomber,” who piloted the famous 1948-49 Berlin Airlift, returns to Elizabeth City with more treats Dec. 5 when the Elizabeth City Regional Airport (ECG) presents its First in Flight Festival.
Featuring free airplane rides for children, remote control air shows, special hangar and aircraft tours and a re-enactment of the airlift that brought sweets to West German children, the free festival is an opportunity for children to learn about aviation history — and North Carolina’s future as a burgeoning aerospace state.
“Generating an aerospace culture in northeast North Carolina is important so that students will be poised to take advantage of local training programs being initiated now,” said Scott Hinton, manager of the Elizabeth City Regional Airport. “We are presenting the festival to teach young people about aviation, while they have a little fun.”
The festival will take place on the airport grounds, within sight of the future Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Aviation Research and Development Park. On completion, the park will feature a 15-acre campus for the Elizabeth City State University School of Aviation Science and a College of the Albemarle FAA-certified A&P maintenance training facility.
A number of Elizabeth City aerospace businesses are participating in the festival, including DRS Technologies, which will host a guided hangar tour where attendees can see a C-130 aircraft overhaul in process; Telephonics Corporation, sponsor of the festival’s Remote Control Air Show, presented by Radio Active Air Shows; and the Elizabeth City Regional Airport, which is underwriting the free airplane rides offered by the Experimental Aircraft Association’s “Young Eagles” program.
But perhaps the most anticipated event will be Halvorsen’s re-enactment of the Berlin Airlift. As Allied forces dropped food and medicine to West Berlin residents after World War II, Halvorsen, an airlift pilot, noticed children gathered outside the Tempelhof Air Base. During a flight break, he gave the youngsters his last two sticks of chewing gum and promised to return with chocolates. As a sign, he said he would wiggle the wings of his plane. He soon became known as “Uncle Wiggly Wings” and “The Chocolate Flier.”
For the festival, Halvorsen will co-pilot two drops, one for children up to 7 years old and a second for children ages 8-12. For each drop, 100 candy bars will sail on tiny parachutes to the children below. Children 13 and older will be able to get a candy bar at the event, but will not be able to participate in the candy drops. Hand-crafted and donated by The Chocolate House, an Elizabeth City confectionary, the gourmet chocolates feature a wrapper with an image of Halvorsen’s airplane.
For more information: ECFirstInFlight.com.