Efforts are underway to fly Great Britain’s only Douglas C-54 Skymaster to Germany in 2024 for the 75th Anniversary of the Berlin Airlift. The Skymaster, serial number 56498, flew in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War before being struck from the list of military aircraft in 1972. Now, the British non-profit Save the Skymaster is restoring the plane not only to preserve history but also educate the public and even train a generation of future aeronautical engineers.
In May 1945, a shiny new Douglas C-54 Skymaster (serial number 56498) rolled off the assembly line at present-day O’Hare Airport in Chicago and made its way to Guam. The plane would join VR-11, a Naval Air Transport Squadron whose job it was to ship cargo and personnel across the Pacific.
She spent the remaining months of World War II delivering blood to Iwo Jima and evacuated wounded Marines to field hospitals. She even undertook a covert operation to repatriate British prisoners of war from Burma back to the States.
After V-J Day, she transferred to the Marine Corps and saw duty out of Hawaii and California, before landing at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni in Japan.
Skymaster #56498 remained in Japan as 300 of her fellow C-54 Skymasters saw duty keeping the city of West Berlin alive after the Soviets blockaded the city in 1948-1949.
Missing the Berlin Airlift, she joined the Korean War airlift when the North Korean Army invaded its southern neighbor on June 25, 1950.
This Skymaster was also there during Vietnam, flying out of Guam, Japan, and Cubi Point, Philippines to deliver supplies and whole blood for the wounded. She also brought the wounded back to Hawaii and California, a last leg of the Freedom Bird back home.
In 1972, before the final US troops left Vietnam, Skymaster #56498 was struck from service. Two years later, the last C-54 flew a final flight on behalf of the US military. C-54s had become obsolete in the jet age, replaced by the C-124 Globemaster II.
After its service through three wars, the old Skymaster was put to use as an agricultural sprayer. Then, it was discovered by Stephen Spielberg’s production company for use in a feature film about the Berlin Airlift. After she flew to England for its time on the big screen, the film was cancelled, and there she sat exposed at the North Weald Airfield in Essex.
That’s where Allan Vogel found her in 2017 and decided to launch “Save the Skymaster.”
By restoring C-54 Skymaster #56498 to its former glory, the project seeks not only to educate about history but also about design, engineering technologies, and operation and maintenance processes and procedures. And the project enlists military veterans to work on the plane and train them in aviation technology.
The group looks to put the Skymaster on the world stage next year for the 75th Anniversary of the Berlin Airlift. Doing so means getting her in flying shape, which takes funds.
Save the Skymaster is raising money for next year’s operation. You can learn more and donate at:
Or, you can contact Save the Skymaster’s Marketing Manager Tracey Botha at email@example.com or +44 (0)33 011 39627.