Pontifications: First flight nears for Berlin Airlift Foundation’s replacement airplane

The left wing of the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation Douglas C-54E was impaled by a hangar beam during a tornado. Source: BAHF.

By Scott Hamilton

March 8, 2021, © Leeham News: The Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation appears to be weeks away from the test flight for the replacement of the Douglas C-54E that was badly damaged last year in a tornado.

The 76-year old airplane participated in the historic 1948 airlift that brough food, coal and other goods to West Berlin after the Soviet Union initiated a ground blockade. The Soviets tried to starve the West Berliners into submission and force the former World War II Allies (Britain, France and the US) to hand over occupation of West Berlin to the Soviets, who occupied East Berlin deep inside East Germany.

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Badly damaged

The C-54’s interior is a museum of the airlift. The foundation flew the airplane to many air shows in the US each year. The aircraft was flown to Walterboro (SC) in December 2019 for installation of avionics. On April 13, 2020, a tornado hit the area and the airport. A 20 ft long hangar beam 20 inches in diameter through rear and center spars, through a fuel tank, then the front spar and through the No. 1 engine firewall. It was repairable. The Foundation would have had to build a shelter, three years to repair, and sheet metal workers making custom parts.

“If we repaired the Foundation’s plane, it would take three years, $300,000 and we’d still have high time engines,” said Tim Chopp, the Foundation’s president. During this lengthy period, the Foundation essentially would be out of business. The second airplane owned by the Foundation to honor the Airlift, a Boeing C-97, was grounded previously with a blown No. 2 engine. It’s still waiting repairs.

The Douglas C-54D acquired by BAHF to replace its damaged airplane.

The Foundation considered two replacement airplanes. One, a C-54D, was once owned by Florida Air Transport and used until a few years ago in cargo service. Within prop-geek circles, FAT’s owner is the well-known Carlos Gomez. Gomez was once co-owner of the Douglas DC-7B in Eastern Airlines colors. This aircraft has been at the Charlotte (NC) aviation museum since an engine failure in 2011.

The airplane was at West Smyrna (FL), where it remained at the side of the airport following a nose-gear collapse several years ago. The airplane has less time on it (26,000 hours vs 29,000 on the Foundation’s airplane). The engines also have lower time, some much lower, than the C-54E. One engine has 15 hours, a second with 78, a third with 250. The highest time is 1,000 hours.

Famed Buffalo Airways C-54

The other C-54 the Foundation considered was one owned by Canada’s Buffalo Airways of Ice Pilots NWT fame now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Tim Chopp

“We came very close to that airplane,” Chopp said. But price and engine condition nixed this purchase. The lowest time engine on the Buffalo C-54 was 1,200 hours.

The aircraft was damaged Aug. 20, 2014, in a landing at New Smyrna Beach (FL). By this time, the aircraft was owned by Island Air Transport. Upon landing, the nose gear slowly retracted. The nose gear doors and the props on engines two and three were damaged. The plane was parked since then. The Foundation purchased the aircraft Aug. 15 last year.

Bringing the plane back to life has been measured in months. The C-54 has been on taxi tests. The first flight test may be within a few weeks, depending on paperwork from the Federal Aviation Administration. FAA processing, like so many other things, was slowed by COVID.

Next steps

Once the airplane is certified airworthy, it will be flown to Walterboro, The Airlift Museum will be transferred from the C-54E to the C-54D. Once this is done, the new airplane will be taken to a paint shop in Arkansas. The Berlin Airlift livery will be applied there.

Chopp hopes the airplane will be ready for some summertime events.

Then, the Foundation will tackle getting a new engine for the Boeing C-97 that’s been parked in Redding (PA) since No. 2 engine failed.


Getting the two airplanes back into service isn’t cheap. The Foundation needs money. Information about donating may be found here.

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10 Comments on “Pontifications: First flight nears for Berlin Airlift Foundation’s replacement airplane

  1. Thanks Scott. Iconic to when I was growing up.

    When the wall came down I was just gobbersmacked, I always thought it would be there.

    • TW, a small friendly correction: it’s “gobsmacked”, as in smacked on the mouth (“gob” is Scottish dialect for a mouth). I do love understanding the etymology of these kinds of phrases, I hope you do too!


  2. In 2019 I was able to get a long dreamed of trip to McMinnville and go thoruigh that air museuam. It was better tahn I had envisioned.

    Then I went over the Moutninas to a place called Madras and went through the Erickson Muselan. Not well known, fantastic as well.

    Both well worth the trip. I missed one museum at Hood River I did not know about.

    I have been to Boeing as well as Payne Filed Museum (forget what that one goes by)

    Bellingham had a small one and got to that. I fell head over heel for their A1, a long admired but I had never seen one. As much as I love the P-38/51 Spitfires etc, that A1 took my heart.

    One I still want to see is the Mosquito.

    Got to see a lot of the birds back in the early 70s up in Central California Santa Rosa on South to San Jose.

    • Ah, yes, Paine Field may be the warbird museum of the Microsoft co-founder of bad taste in music who died a few years ago. Paul Allen moved it from Arlington WA airport which is to the NE (venue for the NW EAA fly-in and show).

      But at the Boeing tour center Everett, which is now away from Boeing buildings, there may be a few things, IIRC a big chunk of a 727 in the foyer, at least.

      Museum of Flight is the big one at Boeing Field.
      (If doing research note both they and Boeing had archives. (I gave MOF copies of a Boeing newsletter from its Richmond BC wartime plant, that I came across in Calgary, an uncle worked in the plant as a teenager/young man. MOF were going to offer them to Boeing archives to fill in its collection..)

      Didn’t know about Bellingham, thanks, I used to go past the airport there.

      Many places, Langley BC and Sidney BC are worthwhile if in the region. In Alberta the transportation museum in Wetaskawin SE of Edmonton is renowned, there’s much smaller one or two in Calgary, probably something in Winterpeg, and a big fancy one in Ottawa. Canadian museums will have more Brit aircraft as flown by Canadian military in WW II, or used for training in Canada, or built in Canada – IIRC Langley had a Bolingbroke, Sidney something roughly akin to it. Might be one of the Brit observation aircraft that US military are now emulating (fly slow to insert and extricate spies and special forces), brain fade on name despite knowing a guy who had much to do with it in the war.

      There’s a USAF museum a modest drive north of I-80 in a state between WY and IA, and one in Ohio – between the two of them they have a B-36 and an XB-70. I didn’t have time to stop along I-80, I regret not geting my duff out to Ohio when out that region for a couple of years.

      And in obscure museum contents, MOF had a pedal care in the shape of a B727, they were looking for information on it. Much later I came across a batch of old pedal cars in eastern IA, in a back room at an automobile junkyard.

  3. DC-4/C54 – workhorse of the Berlin Airlift.

    DC-3s started the airlift but the DC-4 lifted much more and had level floor for much easier loading/offloading.

    The cause of and success of the Berlin Airlift should be taught in school. It’s a sequel to ‘Lest We Forget’ (that evil is about).

    • A year before the beginning of the blockade the US was much more accommodating about detachment of a significant part of then Western Germany into one of its neighbours.
      “In the speech Restatement of Policy on Germany, given in Stuttgart on 6 September 1946, the US Secretary of State James F. Byrnes stated the US’s motive in detaching the Saar from Germany as “The United States does not feel that it can deny to France, which has been invaded three times by Germany in 70 years, its claim to the Saar territory”.
      The French tried very hard to keep their part of West Germany, well into the 1950s. What is taught in school shouldnt be just ‘heroic version’

  4. Keith:

    The Bellingham group moved to Marysville I think. BHam would not continue funding.

    Build huge parking lots of Allegiance yes but a bit of money to keep a cool ops going, no.

    They are not big, P-51, Observation plane, forget a couple of others. The A1 was new or a visitor. Loved it though. Very visceral.

    I could see myself flying an A1.

    • Thanks TW.

      ‘Marysville’ may be the which is between the two towns – I haven’t paid attention to division when driving the main road north of Marysville. Airport not far off of I-5. Smokey Point exit Arlington WA airport off I-5, go past the runway then turn left. (Both north of Everett, in between across I-5 is a big mall with the Tulalip tribe’s casino, ‘Quilceda’.)

      Arlington WA airport has many small airplanes and industry, often home of manufacturer wannabe startups.

    • Presuming you mean the A-1 attack/fighter, not the Husky utility airplane (which I’d take for usefulness).

      A problem is more stuff about than museums can deal with. One day I asked Langley museum if they still had a basic simulator that Pacific Western Airlines used for CV640 training. Regrets, they advised – the donated space – a barn or such – it was in was sold or something so the museum had to dispose of much. Another time I went to an open house at a collection of aircraft and parts that was at the east end of Mud Bay in south Surrey BC, with an ammunition box I found in a garage sale. Gave it to Jerry the radio guy from BC Telephone Company, he recognized what aircraft it was from and walked me into a shed to deposit it on a pile of trash – er, parts of P-40 aircraft IIRC. Eventually that site was cleared, some things went to a government-funded museum to the east, I hope the pile of broken and bent stuff went to someone wanting to restore an aircraft. (Odd place for P-40 parts, even if near the US.)

  5. Oh, C-97, thanks.
    Several were used in the Biafran humanitarian airlift in 1967-1970.

    Primarily a civilian operation by Christian organizations, under attack by the callous Nigerian military whose strategy was to starve the breakaway population.
    Several aircraft lost, and their aircrew.
    Operations were into a rudimentary runway, and by air-dropping bags of food.
    (There was one French, one German, one Swiss, and one Canadian military aircraft used at times. Israel helped with C-97 aircraft maintenance outside of Biafra/Nigeria.)

    At its peak the airlift was delivering roughly a quarter of a pound of food per night, given the needy population size and a few other items transported. Not enough.

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