By Greg Morehead
Already admired and respected for their beautiful Douglas C-54 Skymaster, Spirit of Freedom, the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation (BAHF) is ready to fly the only certified and airworthy Boeing C-97 in the world. The Stratofreighter will be the organization’s second heavy cargo aircraft dedicated to honoring USAF Cold War heritage. Similar to the C-54, the new aircraft will make use of the interior cargo area to present an on board Cold War museum/exhibit. The Angel of Deliverance museum will include areas highlighting Cold War events, including the Berlin Airlift, Korean War, the “Red Scare” and McCarthyism, Cuban Missile Crisis, Space Race, Vietnam War, arms race, and the Fall of the Soviet Union. These significant milestones represent the period from 1948 through the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Boeing C-97G ser. no. 52-2718 came off the Seattle, WA assembly line and was accepted by the USAF on April 27, 1954. She was manufactured as a KC-97G aerial tanker and was assigned to air refueling units across the United States. From 1954 until being retired to Davis Monthan AFB in 1976, her home stations and deployment locations included bases in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, New York, Wisconsin, and Utah. After being dropped from USAF inventory as surplus in 1977, 52-2718 was auctioned on the civilian market in 1986 and converted to a C-97G with the removal of the refueling equipment and the addition of cargo doors. In 1988 the big girl was seized by the US Marshal Service and subsequently auctioned to Grace Aire, Inc., which used ‘718 on humanitarian missions to South America and to carry fish in Alaska.
The BAHF purchased ‘718 on April 22, 1996, and had it paid off by November 1997. In October 1998, BAHF transferred the cargo plane from Moses Lake, WA to Greybull, WY for inspection and restoration. In September 1999 the FAA signed off on the Approved Inspection Program and in 2000 the aircraft was painted in the colors of YC-97A 45-59595, the sole C-97 used in the Berlin Airlift. In 2001 she was moved to Aberdeen, SD and Millville, NJ, and then the aircraft was flown to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, NY in May 2002, where she currently resides.
The restoration reached effective completion by the time the first engine runs took place in October 2016, and crew training began in earnest. Although the original plan was to fly Angel of Deliverance in late 2016, the delay has allowed BAHF founder Tim Chopp and his team to continue their efforts to improve and beautify their portly angel. The final speed bump to the first flight is obtaining final determination from the FAA on the crew currency requirements. Technically the aircraft needs pilots current in the type; however, no one in the entire world is current in the C-97. Pilots and flight engineers with extensive experience and type ratings are ready to go as soon as the FAA confirms their acceptance.
The Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation appeals to C-97 veterans and their families, as well as families and friends of Cold War veterans, and all patriotic Americans to help Angel of Deliverance achieve her mission of becoming the only flying C-97 and to educate people across the country about a pivotal time in American and USAF history. Tim Chopp said, “Kevin Kearney, the Foundation’s Vice President and member of the board of directors, coined the very appropriate phrase: ‘Be part of something BIG.’”
The C-97 is certainly big, and so is the mission the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation is dedicated to. To learn more and to provide financial support, visit: www.spiritoffreedom.org
Thanks to Greg Morehead and Warbird Digest for allowing the reproduction of this article. Subscribe to Warbird Digest – Each issue comes with 68 full color pages.Restoration News – Stunning Photography – World Wide Warbird Coverage, including: Fighter, Bomber, Jet, Trainer & Liaison, Museum News, Operator Information Request your subscription today, click the banner below!