Founded in 1988 and based in New Jersey, the foundation obtained and restored a
Douglas C-54, one of 330 that carried out the airlift, to flying condition. The
foundation painted the airplane in a scheme similar to that of the 48th Troop
Carrier Squadron, one of the groups that participated in the event. Artifacts,
displays and information explaining this history-making event fill the interior
of the flying museum. Tim Chopp, founder and president of the Berlin Airlift
Historical Foundation, spent four years looking for the right airplane for a living history educational museum exhibit about the great Berlin Airlift of 1948-49.
The foundation bought the airplane—one of four C-54s in the U.S. that are
“I finally located this airplane in Canada in December 1992,” said Chopp. “We
ferried it to New Jersey in mid-1993. We started flying the airplane in late
1994 and painted it in early 1995.”
The Foundation has a self decribed "Mission of History, Education and
Remembrance,” Our purpose is to celebrate this pivotal point in
history that’s almost forgotten in schools today. We want to educate kids about
what happened in the last half of the 20th century, about the Cold War that was
spawned from this event.
Thirty-one Americans gave their lives
During the airlift, 101 fatalities occurred, including 31 Americans, mostly due
"We want to share their story by putting it inside an airlift airplane,” said
Kevin Kearney. “Some people will build a museum and then try to attract people
to their venue. What Tim has created with this organization is a museum you can
bring to the people, so it gets more exposure by traveling the country. We’ve
traveled from Canada to California to Florida, and to what used to be Ramey Air
Force Base in Puerto Rico, to spread our message.” "We even took the C-54
overseas to Berlin in 1998"
While Chopp’s mission is clear, the history of the airplane isn’t.
“We have the records from the Navy showing the airplane left Guam for Berlin,”
said Chopp. “Then two years’ worth of records disappeared. We have a letter from
the Navy indicating that it did, in fact, participate in the airlift.
The Navy had three squadrons in the airlift, VR-3, VR-6 and VR-8. The VR-6 and
VR-8 squadrons were called corridor squadrons, and VR-3 was a support squadron.
The foundation’s airplane was part of the support squadron. Its main job was to
provide transatlantic support between Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass. (CEF),
and Rhein-Main Air Base, in Frankfort, Germany.
The Douglas Aircraft Company built this particular C-54E in 1945 for the Army
Air Force. Six months later, they turned it over to the Navy. The Marine Corps
flew it as an R5D out of the Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro, Calif., until
it went into storage in 1973. Converted in 1976 to a civilian airplane, it flew
auto parts in Canada until 1991, when it went back into storage. The foundation
acquired it the following year.
“We began with very primitive displays,” said Chopp. “It’s been a slow process
of building it to what it is today. What you see now is 22 years’ worth of
The mission is getting the word out
The organization is very aggressive about presenting the educational aspect of
the Berlin Airlift to the public.
“Doing about 30 shows, we put about 120 hours a year on the airframe,” he said.
“The airplane is more than 70 years old, but it only has 27,600 hours on the
airframe, so it’s still relatively young.”
They do other events besides air shows.
“We did a salute to veterans in Norfolk, Va. recently, and we’ll go to airport
openings and special educational events for school kids,” he said. “We did one
in Puerto Rico in March. We go to air shows for the funding, but we want to be a
flying classroom. We want to focus on our mission—to educate folks, especially
“The world of transports in the warbird community is a lonely world,” he said.
“We have to slug it out every year. We don’t have the bomber attraction. We’ve
had this challenge with us from the beginning. It never ends, and we never let
up on the mission to educate. We have a saying: ‘It’s all about the mission.’ We
do what’s necessary to get the mission done. We’ve done our job if someone walks
away from the airplane saying, “Wow, I learned something. It was well worth my
Finding the right people
The Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation has about 500 members, but Chopp said
that like most groups, a small number do the actual work.
“We try to select crews that are here for the right reasons,” he said. “It’s
tough to find the right people. We want someone who will do the glory jobs as
well as the dirty jobs—people who are enthusiastic about the work, whether it’s
sweeping the hangar floor, cleaning a toilet or helping show the plane. We want
people who willingly go beyond their comfort zone to fix the airplane.”
Kearney said the team consists of “average people.”
“I’m a high school teacher and an aircraft and power plant mechanic,” he said.
“Tim’s a retired corporate pilot and an A&P. Steve Grubesich, our chief
loadmaster and mechanic, is also a teacher, and Frank Benson, our ground support
and maintenance person, is a retired telephone company employee. We have
volunteers from all walks of life.”
Chopp, who had his pilot’s license before he entered the Army, became an Army
mechanic during the Vietnam years.
“I really wanted to be an Army pilot but it wasn’t in the cards,” said Chopp.
“Now I’m really glad I didn’t, because it laid the ground work for this.”
After Vietnam, Chopp earned additional ratings and worked in corporate aviation.
He’s also the aircraft’s commander.
“I love working on it as well as flying it,” he said.
The Big Bad Boeing!
In 1996, the Foundation purchased Boeing
C-97G 52-2718 from Grace Aire Medical Foundation of Corpus Christie, TX.
Nicknamed "Angel of Deliverance", the C-97 joined the fleet as a traveling
exhibit to the Cold War.
Painted in the colors of YC-97A 45-59595, the lone C-97 used in the airlift, the
Big Boeing is the largest piston powered airplane airworthy today.
With its 28 cylinder Pratt and Whitney R4360 engines, it is also the single most
complex airplane on the warbird circuit.
It takes special people to keep an airplane of this sheer magnitude airworthy.
Everything is more complicated, larger and unforgiving. We're happy to
report that as of November 2017, the "Angel" is fully operational after many
years of work on it.
We hope folks will recognize the difficulty we face and hope they would pitch in
top help. We want them to "Be A Part of Something BIG" and appreciate the
uniqueness of an airworthy C-97.
Airlift Historical Foundation is a non-profit educational group that exists to
educate the public. We operate largely on donations and continued support by
dedicated volunteers. Without your support, these aircraft will be scrap metal,
and a great defining chapter in history will be gone. The Foundation is listed
in IRS Publication 78 as a 501(c) (3) tax exempt charity. The Foundation tax
exempt documents are available for public inspection upon request by writing to
the Foundation at P.O. Box 782 Farmingdale, NJ 07727