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Westmoreland

Westmoreland air show will feature flying Berlin Airlift museum

Jeff Himler
| Tuesday, June 12, 2018, 6:03 p.m.
Dubbed the 'Spirit of Freedom,' this Douglas C-54 transport plane took part in the Berlin Airlift and has been restored by the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation and fitted with a museum recalling the operation that circumvented a Soviet blockade of the German city in 1948 and 1949.
Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation
Dubbed the 'Spirit of Freedom,' this Douglas C-54 transport plane took part in the Berlin Airlift and has been restored by the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation and fitted with a museum recalling the operation that circumvented a Soviet blockade of the German city in 1948 and 1949.

A former Navy Air Transport plane that took part in the Berlin Airlift will turn back time to that historic post-World War II effort for the 2018 Shop 'n Save Westmoreland County Airshow.

Dubbed the Spirit of Freedom, the restored Douglas C-54 aircraft and the airlift-related exhibits it contains will be on display July 28-29 during the show at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport.

“It's a flying museum. It's very interesting,” said Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, which runs the airport and air show.

Operated by the New Jersey-based Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation, the plane holds artifacts and information that offer insight into the massive aerial operation by the U.S. and its allies. The airlift provided 2.3 million tons of food and supplies to West Berlin while it was subject to a Soviet blockade in 1948 and 1949.

The Spirit of Freedom exhibits include a replica of the radar equipment that helped the frequent flights safely land in the city.

Another exhibit is devoted to “Vittles,” a year-old boxer dog who was the mascot for the airlift, also known as Operation Vittles. It features a porcelain statue of the dog and a replica of the special parachute made for him.

Accompanying his owner, who was one of the participating U.S. pilots, Vittles flew on 130 missions during the airlift, said Tim Chopp, founder and president of the historical foundation.

“The dog went on with him after the airlift when he was stationed at El Paso, Texas,” Chopp said — until Vittles “got a mosquito bite and died. That's where he's buried.”

First put into military service in March 1945, the Spirit of Freedom is painted to represent the 48th Troop Carrier Squadron, one of many groups that took part in the later airlift. After being retired from service, the plane was used from the late 1970s to the early '90s to carry auto parts between Toronto and Detroit.

The foundation bought it in December 1992. In 1998, it flew on a 70-day European tour to mark the 50th anniversary of the airlift. It last appeared at the Westmoreland County Airshow in 2011.

This year's show will feature other World War II-era aircraft , NASCAR-related attractions and a performance by the Air Force Thunderbirds .

Visit palmerairport.com for air show tickets and details.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622, jhimler@tribweb.com or via Twitter @jhimler_news.

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