May 2002 Wolf Stories
"There wasn't one pilot who thought it wasn't going to
work. Maybe there were some higher up in command who thought we
weren't going to cut it, but the pilots thought what they were doing was
going to succeed," said Joe Laufer, a Berlin airlift pilot, when I
interviewed him for I Always Wanted to Fly. And I
believe Joe summarized the feelings of all the men I ever met who
participated in the Berlin airlift - pilots, maintenance men, supply, airpolice,
you name the skill they brought to the table - they all believed in what
they were doing. But that didn't necessarily mean that everyone
fully understood the powerful impact they would have on postwar history -
that insight only came later. Making the Berlin airlift work not only
saved Berlin, but helped create the Germany of today - at the very least, the
Berlin airlift provided the conditions for the Federal Republic to
emerge and succeed.
First Lieutenant Leonard Sweet was one of the many pilots who
manned the cockpits of the durable C-54. "The pressure to keep
flying was unbelievable," Leonard recalled, "but I guess it
was necessary to accomplish what had to be done. On one flight I lost
an engine. It stopped dead and I had to feather the propeller to keep
it from windmilling and continue the rest of the flight on three engines.
The C-54 was a great airplane and flew well on three engines with a full
load. I landed at Tempelhof and naturally assumed I would have to stay
there until the engine was fixed. While the aircraft was being
unloaded, the operations officer drove up in a jeep and asked, 'Do you want
to stay here or fly back to Wiesbaden?' He didn't wait for an answer
but quickly added, 'If you stay, it will probably take several days to get
the parts flown in.' I looked at the copilot and flight engineer, and
we agreed we didn't want to stay at Tempelhof. They cleared us to take
off on three engines, over the five-story apartment houses, over the
"Most of our loads to Berlin were made up of milk or
other foods, but sometimes we had unusual cargo. On one trip I had a
load of wine for the French garrison. When it was unloaded, a French
officer checked the load. He became disturbed when he discovered one
of the cases had been opened and three bottles of wine were missing.
He didn't want to leave the plane until he found the missing bottles.
I told him I had no idea where they were and that he would either have to
leave the plane or ride back to Wiesbaden with us. He finally did get
off the plane, but as I taxied to the runway, I could still see him waving
his arms and shouting at me. When we arrived back at Wiesbaden, to our
amazement we found three bottles of French wine under my seat."
Copyright, from I Always Wanted to Fly: America's Cold War Airmen
by Wolfgang W. E. Samuel, pp 25-26.