July 18, 2011
Plane charts history’s course
Spirit of Freedom flying museum at Airfest details Berlin Airlift
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Retired Lt. Col. Bill Simons, left, listens as Norm Schiek of Locke describes his ride in a C-54 transport plane in 1946 on a flight home across the U.S. after fighting Japan in World War II. A fully restored 1945 Douglas C-54 Skymaster aircraft with a museum dedicated to the Berlin Airlift was featured Saturday at the Cortland County Airfest at Chase Field.
For Timothy Chopp, his flying museum is a prime example of what people will do for freedom.
Chopp is the foundation president of the Spirit of Freedom, a fully restored 1945 Douglas C-54 Skymaster aircraft with a museum dedicated to the Berlin Airlift.
The C-54 Skymaster was the most successful aircraft used in the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949.
“It’s a message about what people will do to stay free,” Chopp said.
The four-engine antique cargo aircraft and museum made its first trip to Cortland last week, and was on display at the Cortland County Airfest Saturday.
This was the fourth year out of the last five that Cortland has hosted an Airfest.
Inside the museum, there is a sample radar, pictures, newspaper clippings and other historical artifacts and models relating to the airlift. There is also a plaque in honor of the 31 Americans who died during the airlift.
“We need to keep this history where people can learn about it,” Chopp said.
Chopp started the foundation in 1988, and after some difficulty with finding a plane and funding its purchase, finally acquired a plane in 1992.
Of the 1,250 C-54s built in the United States, 330 were used in the Berlin Airlift. Chopp said only a few of the aircraft are left.
Chopp said the statistics of the airlift first drew him in, like that the planes in the airlift flew a total of 93 million miles — equivalent to a one-way trip to the sun.
Jack Thompson, a plane enthusiast who recently moved from Cincinnati to Ithaca, said he had seen the plane before, including at one of the biggest air shows in the world in Oshkosh, Wisc.
“Being around with these things, it makes it jump off the page,” he said.
The plane is not only historically important because of its involvement in the Berlin Airlift, Thompson said, but also because it helped lead to aircraft used today.
“It was pivotal in how we got here,” Thompson said.
After World War II, Germany was split into different sections: France, Great Britain, and the United States received the west, and the Soviet Union controlled the east.
Germany’s capital, Berlin, which was in the Soviet Union’s portion, was also split.
After tensions rose in 1948 over ideological differences concerning how Germany should be rebuilt, the Soviets blockaded West Berlin and did not allow supplies in from the other three countries.
The Allies responded by airlifting in food, coal and other supplies on Douglas C-54 Skymasters, which could hold up to 10 tons of supplies. They used air routes that had already been agreed upon.
During the height of the airlift, planes were taking off every three minutes to sustain the 2.5 million people in the city.
On Easter Day in 1949, General William H. Tunner planned to kick the airlift into high gear in hopes of a big morale boost for the Allies.
In the 24-hour period, the Allied Forces airlifted 12,941 tons of coal in 1,383 flights without an accident.
It was regarded as the final straw, and the Soviets ended the blockade on May 12 of that year.
Cathy Dausman, a World War II buff from LaFayette, took the tour of the plane Saturday, and said it was hard to take in all of the information in the museum in one tour.
Dausman was in Germany after World War II, waiting for her father, who was in the infantry, to be discharged. Although it was before the Berlin Airlift, she still saw the effects of war.
“I saw the devastation,” she said.
Lori McLaughlin, of Groton, said she enjoyed history and said it was wonderful to have the plane at the show.
“To have such a big plane land on such a small strip — it’s amazing,” she said.
The Cortland Airfest also had airplane rides from Cortland County Aviators and 747 Aviation, helicopter rides from TLC Helicopters, a radio-controlled aircraft demonstration, pilot seminars and dozens of aircraft on display.
The event also included vendors, a bouncy house, Crossroads the Clown and the Cortlandville Fire Department.
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