Airlift’s ‘Spirit of Freedom’ flies on

Posted: October 1, 2012

The Winchester Star

Dan Nemeth-Barath of Frederick County looks at the cockpit of the “Spirit of Freedom” Douglas C-54 plane that was at the Winchester Regional Airport on Saturday. The plane is a flying museum dedicated to preserving the history of the Berlin Airlift. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)
Bill Shepherd (left) of Winchester and his son, Chris Shepherd of Strasburg, read about the history of the Berlin Airlift inside the “Spirit of Freedom” at the Winchester Regional Airport on Saturday.

WINCHESTER — Gabriel Charles ran through the more than 60-year-old cargo plane Saturday without any idea of the history stored within its wings.

“Does this plane have guns?” the 4-year-old asked of the Douglas C-54 Skymaster, dubbed the “Spirit of Freedom.”

The airplane, which was parked at the Winchester Regional Airport Saturday and Sunday, was one of 330 that delivered food and supplies to East Berlin, Germany, during the Berlin Airlift organized by the United States and other Western allies in 1948 and ’49. Those famous missions sustained the people of East Berlin for 11 months after Russia’s Joseph Stalin shut down power and support for the city.

Thirty-one men died during the airlift, and only three planes from the effort are flying today.

The Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation brought the plane to the Winchester Regional Airport for a two-day festival. The foundation works to preserve the memory of the humanitarian effort by showing the plane at air shows across the country. This is the 13th year it has come to Winchester.

“This shows what people can accomplish when they pull together for a common goal,” said Tim Chopp, the airplane’s chief pilot and the founder of the organization. “It’s a time in history when there was a lot of uncertainty from Germans about what their future would be like. The airlift showed that the U.S. was behind them 100 percent.”

The plane flies at 200 mph and uses 220 gallons of fuel and six gallons of oil an hour.

Tom Carpenter, 73, of Stephens City is a World War II airplane enthusiast.

“It’s bigger than I thought it would be,” he said as he strolled through the plane’s interior.

“I remember reading about the Berlin Airlift as a kid,” he added. “It’s amazing that they flew. They came back with a lot of flak and machine gun holes.”

Justyn Castle, 15, and his friend, Caleb Wine, both of Stephens City, were amazed at the longevity of the machine.

“It keeps flying so many miles,” Justyn said. “It’s amazing that it still works now.”

The festival also included homebuilt, experimental, and vintage aircraft from the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 186 from Manassas.

The Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation crew also flew the “Spirit of Freedom” over the airport Sunday and dropped chocolate bars in parachutes as festival attendees observed near the runway.

Gabriel and his older brother, Christian, 6, ogled at the hundreds of buttons in the cockpit and sat on the green leather seats of the aircraft on Saturday.

They were oblivious to the history of the plane, but they did understand that it was something special.

“This is awesome, dude,” Christian said.

“This is a nice plane,” added Gabriel.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com