National Geographic : 1949 May
BE. ... poS....P U. S. Air Force, Official U. S. Air Force, Official "Give Me a Piece of Sky," Says the Leader of a C-54 "Block" Not one but 47 Skymas ters are the responsibility of Capt. Louis W. Baker (center). As block leader, he obtains a blanket clear ance at Frankfurt for his midnight procession of coal-laden transports. Under the airlift's block system, USAF and RAF bases take turns dispatch ing aircraft into the two corridors leading to Berlin. To prevent air-traffic jams en route and over the city, C-54 cruising speeds are coordinated with those of the other planes used by the RAF. Careful stagger ing of altitudes guards fur ther against collision. At Berlin's three air dromes, GCA (ground controlled approach) in sunshine or pea-soup fog pulls planes down like kites on a string. Airlift's safety record is so high that the Civil Aeronautics Board has urged U. S. airlines to study its procedure. "Like a Hot Dog?" Rolling Snack Bar Serves Airmen As soon as an Operation Vittles plane parks for un loading at Berlin, a tiny wheeled restaurant speeds to the ramp with refresh ments for the crew. Seventeen minutes later, after a sandwich, a cup of coffee, and a smoke, the plane is bound back to base for another load. Many airlift crews first saw Berlin through a screen of flak when it was a tar get for bombs rather than coal and flour. Far from the devil-may-care fly boys of the "wild blue yonder" days, they now regard themselves as unglamorous "airplane drivers" or "us peasants." Their original name for Operation Vittles was the "LeMay Coal and Food Company," in honor of the airlift's organizer, Lt. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay. At Great Falls, Montana, Air Force trains 100 new airlift crews a month.