Against all odds, we mustered fourteen aircraft for the penultimate flight of Berlin Airlift 70, our trip to Berlin. At one point the German element of this trip could not be assured due to a lapse in planning by certain foreign-based producers, but the D-Day Squadron of Americans and certain German producers elegantly filled the void. For some, landing in Berlin represented an important aspect of the trip. For most of us, and perhaps all but one or two by June 16th, paying our respects from the air checks the box.
Unlike most of our previous missions, the sequence of visits remained in play almost until the brief. We were to take off from Fassberg at approximately 1315 local time following an A-400 and C-130 on static for the air show. We briefed a streaming take-off (standard) to form up for a series of passes over the airport and town. Then we followed a series of waypoints taking us to all the airports in Berlin, to Leipzig, then to our destination of Erfurt, a city in the center of Germany with a marvelous old town and we would later learn, a festival in full swing.
At briefings, I adopt a low profile unless I am the leader. This was impossible for the Berlin flight. The first call-out for “Pan Am” confirmed our willingness to take with us, the wonderful German producers of BA70, Thomas Keller and Jacqueline. Next, we were asked to confirm our willingness to fly the no. 2 position in the first vic. Finally, we were asked to take over the lead role if no. 1 had a problem. So much for a low profile. Needless to say, we paid attention to the details of the briefing. I could imagine the headlines… “HFF’s DC-3 Busts German Air Space in Futile Attempt to Find Tempelhof.”
It was a beautiful flight. Clouds rose to a height sufficient to dilute mechanical turbulence, a condition we had encountered in Germany. Numerous social media and YouTube recordings tell the story. Waving Tempelhof crowds (we were rather close to them) will not be forgotten. The crescent shape of the terminal area has not changed. The abandoned runway and infield have become a popular park and homage to the Berlin Airlift.
Approaching Berlin, one cannot help remembering WWII, partitioning, the wall, and many remarkable leaders such as Conrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt, Helmut Kohl, Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan. The Germans remember the Berlin Airlift as an extraordinary humanitarian act but also as the beginning of over seventy years of peace. HFF gratefully accepted a German flag in gratitude for our unique participation and in recognition of an extended period of peace and cooperation since WWII.
The debrief didn’t last long. The only safety concerns pertained to uninvited aircraft trying to penetrate the formation. We have improved as a group to quite a high standard. It brings to mind a comment attributed to Harry Truman when speaking about the job of President of the United States. He said by the time you figure it out, it’s over. The Berlin flight was perhaps our best as a formation.
I would like to sing praises of the crews, especially N877MG. Some featured strong, idiosyncratic personalities. But good humor and generosity became the ethos. Pilots and mechanics coached one another. The collective stores of spare parts were available to all. Significantly, there were no mishaps of consequence. One golf cart collided with an elevator but the affected aircraft quickly returned to service. At Duxford, a beloved former air boss of the Flying Legends show asked me if there had been any pilot tantrums. There were not; before, during or after our time in Duxford.
Soon we will take up a westerly heading back to Duxford, then home to the United States by commercial airliner. We have agreed to return to participate in the Flying Legends air show July 13 and 14. This will allow me to offer to HFF members, a chance to attend the show as crew members, then retrace our steps along the Lend/Lease route, perhaps to Oshkosh, but in all events to our base at Paine Field. Are you ready for an adventure? If so contact HFF Visitor Services (425.348.3200) to offer your email address and telephone number. We will send you details. Look for our tracker and blogs to resume for that journey. For now, best wishes to all who have shared with us, D-D