Friday, January 22, 2010

Airlifts - Berlin to Haiti

Image by C-130 Hercules Flight Engineer Mark.

I'm sure all our readers will be well aware of the tragic events over the last week in Haiti. Over on my aviation writing blog here, I've put up a comparison of the current airlift into Port au Prince with the 1948-9 Berlin Airlift. While they are very different events, the historical comparisons and the importance and limitations of aviation in these airlifts is, I think, of interest.

Berliners watching a C-54 land at Berlin Tempelhof Airport, 1948. United States Air Force Historical Research Agency via Cees Steijger.

There has been a good deal broadcast over the issues at Port au Prince, but I was privileged to obtain some aircrew first hand accounts of the current efforts in Haiti, particularly in detail from my friend Brad Pilgrim, a loadmaster on a United States Air Force (USAF) C-17 transport aircraft. These insights are not the kind of thing that makes the news - the news version's nice and tidy (and perhaps less technical) and those trying to address Haiti's problems haven't got time to hear the stories. But you might like to gain an insight what it's like to ride alongside some of these crews, and what are some of the real problems and successes.

Above: The ramp at Port au Prince Haiti. (US Defense. A high res version of the image is available here.) On this ramp area is a remarkable variety of aircraft. Some are familiar to us all from airports, others, like the US Coast Guard Hercules less so, and in the middle of the photo is an upright white tail between two grey ones. That's a C-54, one of the types used over half a century ago to save Berlin - as seen in the black and white image above.

I'll hand over to Brad. These views are his own, not official USAF or similar, and certainly worth sharing;
I landed there last night. I unloaded 130,000 pounds of rolling stock and food. We expected to carry out 250+ passengers. We were told that no passengers were on site. While we were getting ready to leave, a guy ran up and asked how long we could wait. I checked with my pilots and told him we had about an hour. He said a bunch of passengers had just shown up unexpectedly and they wanted to put them with us. I told him to get me as many as they could. ...

Brad Pilgrim.
I'd just like to publicly thank Brad and the others who responded to my request for feedback, and for their work in extraordinary challenging times. Read their stories in my other post here.


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