BRUNSWICK | An old cargo plane dropped through the clouds Monday morning at Brunswick Golden Isles Airport just as it did in the skies over Berlin in 1948 and 1949.
The Spirit of Freedom, a four-engine Douglas C-54E, was one of hundreds of aircraft from six nations that delivered more than 200,000 tons of food and fuel to West Berlin between June 1948 and May 1949 during the Soviet blockade of the city.
By closing off the road, rail and water access, the Soviets believed they could starve Berliners into depending on them for survival. It didn’t work.
The airlift delivered more goods than had arrived by rail prior to the blockade, so the Soviets lifted the blockade.
The Spirit of Freedom will be the centerpiece Saturday at the public “Wings, Wheels and Run” event at the airport.
It’s a flying museum of sorts now with old photos and other displays from the Berlin Airlift, but the plane itself is a museum piece.
Pilot Timothy Chopp is also president of the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation.
The old plane needs a lot of care when it’s on the ground, but it’s made some pretty impressive flights, he said.
In 1998, Chopp flew the plane from New York to Berlin for the 50th anniversary of the airlift with Gail Halvorsen as his copilot. It was Halvorsen who during the Berlin Airlift dropped candy and bubble gum rigged with little parachutes to German children as they watched near the airport in something called “Little Vittles.”
“We’re going to re-enact that Saturday,” Chopp said.
About 1:15 p.m. Saturday — timing depends on commercial airport traffic — the Spirit of Freedom will lift off and do a flyover “so everybody can get the feeling of what it was like during the airlift,” said Leslie Faulkenberry, publicist for the Glynn County Airport Commission.
Chopp will then fly over a marked-off area and drop 300 Hershey bars attached to parachutes that kids can then pick up, she said. Because of FAA regulations, no one can go into the area while the plane is overhead, Faulkenberry said.
Now 93, Halvorsen is still active, Chopp said.
“Even at his age, he’ll still accompany me as copilot on some trips,” Chopp said.
The copilot on Monday’s flight from Columbus, Ga., where it had been for an airport open house, was Jason Capra of Pittsburgh who first saw the Spirit of Freedom on the ground.
“It was sitting on a little [general aviation] airport and this plane is the coolest thing out there.”
Capra said he had been interested in airplanes since he was a young child and began washing the Spirit of Freedom at 14.
“I was happy just to touch this aircraft,” he said, standing under one of its big wings.
He got his multi-engine license in high school, began flying it at 19 and now has about 300 hours in it.
Chopp has about 1,800 hours as pilot including three trips to Puerto Rico to honor the Air Force unit that was stationed there that flew in the airlift. In its most recent trip, Puerto Ricans who died in Iraq and Afghanistan were also recognized.
“We were quite honored to do that,” he said.
The Spirit of Freedom will be open for tours Saturday. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for children or $5 for a family. Anyone in uniform, from Girl Scouts to police to military, will be admitted free. The admission is to meet the operating costs of the foundation.
Entry to all other displays and parking will be free.
Vintage planes, modern commercial jets and other aircraft will arrive in a fly-in and be on display at the ramp at Manning Aviation, a sponsor of the event.
Visitors can also check out a full-size cabin mockup of Gulfstream’s new G280, a luxurious mid-size business jet.
Also, regional car clubs will have their vehicles on display. They include muscle cars, vintage autos, coupes and concept cars.
The day will start, however, with a 9 a.m. walk and run at Needwood Middle School off Harry Driggers Boulevard on the north side of the airport. At 9:30 a.m., a 5-kilometer run will start at Needwood and follow a course among the big air tankers and commercial aircraft at Stambaugh Aviation, a sponsor of the event.
For more information consult the website flygcairports.com.
Terry Dickson: (912) 264-0405