ON DECEMBER 17, 2019 THE FIRST FLIGHT SOCIETY HONORS A 99-YEAR-OLD WWII VETERAN, THE 70TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BERLIN AIRLIFT AND THE 116TH ANNIVERSARY OF POWERED FLIGHT.

JOIN US AT WRIGHT BROTHERS NATIONAL MONUMENT IN KILL DEVIL HILLS, NC.

The First Flight Society annually honors those individuals and groups that have achieved significant “firsts” in aviation and includes them in our Paul E. Garber First Flight Shrine exhibit at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. This year’s honorees are 99-year-old Colonel Gail Halvorsen, USAF (Ret) “the Candy Bomber” and the Berlin Airlift (June 27, 1948 to May 12, 1949) commemorating the 70th Anniversary of that historic event.

 

On the morning of December 17,  2019 we will honor the Berlin Airlift 70th Anniversary with ceremonies on the Wright Brothers National Memorial grounds at Kitty Hawk, NC.  The 116th Anniversary Celebration of the Wright Brothers’ first flight will include General Maryanne Miller, Commander, USAF Air Mobility Command as keynote speaker.

Representatives of the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy, as well as representatives from the British and German Embassies are invited.  Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen, USAF Ret. – the “Candy Bomber” and 2019 Paul E. Garber First Flight Shrine Inductee – will attend. We expect to have the traditional Flyover of the Wright Brothers Monument in tribute to the First Flight by USN C-40, USAF C-17, and German A400M aircraft, with a static display of the venerable C-54 Spirit of Freedom and C-47 Miss Virginia aircraft used in the airlift.

 

Colonel Halvorsen has received numerous other recognition and awards over the past decades by both international and domestic organizations since he was first recognized as the “Candy Bomber” of the Berlin Airlift and has become the face of those air crews that did so much in that humanitarian action, so it is truly fitting to honor him along with the amazing logistical success of the U.S., British and French military forces in sustaining the people of Berlin during the Soviet blockade. Despite dire shortages of fuel and electricity, the airlift kept life going in West Berlin for 11 months, until on May 12, 1949, the Soviet Union lifted the blockade. The airlift continued until September 30, 1949, at a total cost of $224 million and after delivery of 2,323,738 tons of food, fuel, machinery, and other supplies. 

One of the most poignant stories of the Berlin Airlift was that of 1st Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen.  On July 17, he decided that he would hitch a ride on a C-54 and visit the City he was saving.  Noticing a group of kids near the fence watching, he went over to them.  During their conversation, the children, unlike others he had met during the War, did not ask him for any candy or gum.  This struck him as unusual and as being too proud to beg.  He made his decision then which was to become one of the symbols of the airlift.  Reaching into his pocket he found that he had only two sticks of gum.  Telling them that if they did not fight over it, he would drop some candy to them the next day.  They agreed, taking the sticks of gum and dividing it among themselves.  Before he left, one asked him how they would know it was him flying over.  He replied, “I’ll wiggle my wings.”

The very next day, on his approach to Berlin, he rocked the wings and dropped some chocolate bars attached to a handkerchief parachute to the children waiting below.  Every day later, the number of children increased, and he made more drops.  Halvorsen didn’t tell anyone about what he was doing for fear he’d get in trouble.  Then, he was called into his commander’s office and faced with a newspaper picture of Halvorsen’s plane and tiny parachutes trailing behind.  His commander wasn’t happy about it, but General Tunner, commander of the airlift thought it was just the kind of gesture that the operation needed.  It was dubbed “Operation Little Vittles”.  In the end, over three tons of candy was dropped over Berlin, some even in the Soviet sector.  For this simple kindhearted gesture, Halvorsen became the most recognized pilot of the Berlin Airlift.

During his career and for years following his Air Force retirement, he has voluntarily represented the U.S. Air Force and the USA. This has included reenactment of his famous candy drops in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift at the Tempelhof Central Airport with over 40,000 people in attendance, and again in 1989 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the airlift. Colonel Halvorsen did not want to merely re-enact candy drops for peacetime countries but has advocated using candy drops to lift spirits and promote goodwill in other nations. In 1994 he got the USAF to let him drop hundreds of candy bars over Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of “Operation Provide Promise”, and again over Kosovo in 1999. He celebrated the 70th Anniversary so far this year with appearances at multiple events in the U.S. and Germany. Notably for us in Kitty Hawk, for the past 18 years the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation C-54 “Spirit of Freedom” has done December 17th flyovers of the Wright Memorial and sometimes done candy drops, often with Colonel Halverson aboard. We are excited to announce that for the first time that C-54 (a genuine Navy Veteran of the Berlin Airlift (VR-3), with its onboard museum to the Berlin Airlift, will land and be on static display open to the public for the 16-17th of December at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. It will be joined by a C-47 “Miss Virginia” so that both workhorse aircraft of the airlift will be there! This C-47 aircraft also flew Colonel Halvorsen during 70th Anniversary Berlin Airlift events in Germany this summer.

As a 501(c)3 charitable organization, the First Flight Society welcomes donations to support this annual event which can be made through their website at https://firstflight.org/donate-now/.