By Major Harry D. Barnes, Sr.
(Retired, United States Air Force).
A three- man crew was assigned as a unit, two pilots and one flight engineer. On my crew, both pilots were qualified as first pilots. One would fly the load into Berlin and the other would fly the empty plane out and the next load in. Normal procedure was eight- hour shifts. Arriving at the ready room one half hour before the tour started, the Operations Clerk gave the crew a slip of paper with aircraft number take off time and altitude assignment on it. Aircraft had been loaded by displaced persons (D.P.s) supervised by British Army personnel. We inspected the aircraft for major defects and load tie down.
Fassberg shared the north corridor with another base so we flew in assigned “blocks” of time. This “block” varied in length from twenty-eight to thirty-two minutes. Take-off was normally to the southwest, requiring a right turn of 180 degrees after take-off to reach the first turn point of Dannenberg. Our only navigational aid on this leg was on ADF (automatic direction finding) radio compass. At the Dannenberg beacon we made a right turn of about 20 degrees and started a time check. On this part of the trip, we had use of a VAR (visual aural range) station, which gave the pilot a visual course indication on his panel. Up to twenty minutes out of Dannenberg, a lost engine sent us back to Fassberg.
At the twenty-minute point, we reported to Berlin and were committed to land in Berlin. Next report was over the Fronnan beacon just out of Berlin. This was our GCA (ground control approach) radar pick up point. Radar directed our flight from this point to landing. After landing, we taxied to the unloading ramp where another crew of D.P.s unloaded the plane and picked up every piece of coal that was dropped. Normal time on the ground was fifteen minutes. There was no service available except for a tire change and a small amount of motor oil. All pilots were qualified to take off on three engines for return trip to Fassberg.
Return trip was same altitude as the trip in. We were assigned either two thousand or two thousand five hundred feet, one hundred seventy miles per hour loaded and one hundred eighty miles per hour empty. Return navigation was by ADF radio compass and the landing was by GCA control. Round trip was about two and one half hours. If you drew a flight close to the end of your tour, your day was more like ten hours. We flew three days, eight a.m. to five p.m., three days five p.m. to midnight, and three days midnight to eight a.m., then three days off.
Although the C-54 was overloaded and overstressed, it was a very forgiving bird and it went and did its job anyway in spite of the abuse.