Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation
The Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation Aircraft can be found at Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn NY in the winter months and at air shows throughout the US the rest of the year.
The Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation is unusual in that it is a living, working museum that flies their transport aircraft to air shows and airfields around the country and abroad. The museum's goal is to commemorate and raise awareness of the Berlin Airlift, the West's efforts to airlift supplies to West Berlin during the period the Soviet Union cut off the city's land supply routes from June of 1948 to May of 1949. The actual museum exhibits are housed within the cabin of the Douglas C-54 Skymaster.
The Douglas C-54 is airworthy and flies as a traveling museum to air shows during the warmer months. The BAHF staff are working to get the Boeing C-97 flying sometime in 2009 to join the C-54 on tour. When I visited them at Floyd Bennett Field in February of 2009, the museum volunteers were busy performing maintenance on the Douglas's Pratt & Whitney radial engines and the Boeing C-97's nose gear. These guys were not only working hard on their aircraft, but they took the time to show you around the aircraft and get you up inside of each. The guys went out of their way to make you feel welcome and tell you about their aircraft and what the foundation is trying to accomplish. Seeing an aircraft nicely displayed at a museum is one thing, but being able to climb up the boarding stairs or ladder and tour the cabin and flight deck and actually get inside the cockpit of each transport is really special. I really like the aroma of hydraulic fluids and lubricants you smell when you climb on board the aircraft. BAHF may not have been the polished restorations and presentation you see at some other aviation museums, but these are working, flying machines and there are no ropes or barriers to keep visitors away or out of the aircraft (although you do need a guide to get inside). You also get real people who go out of their way to tell you about their airplanes and the history of the Berlin Airlift. On the second floor of the hangar is a newly created library of aviation books dating back to the early 1900s, many of which you won't be able to check out in your local public library.
The Douglas C-54 is a transport aircraft from the 1940s with four 14 cylinder twin row Pratt & Whitney R-2000 radial piston engines. The Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter is bigger. It is essentially a Boeing B-29 Superfortress airframe with a modified bulbous fuselage for greater interior capacity and more powerful 28 cylinder radial piston engines. It's a large aircraft, and I thought the most visually striking of all the planes in the hangar. Catching the big Boeing in the hangar is an extra special treat, as the vertical rudder must be folded over in order for the big Boeing to fit in the hangar. Unfolded the tail rises over 33 feet into the air, and would fit in few hangars of the 1940s, or even hangars of today. You won't see that in any other museum. The C-54 is very nicely detailed. A lot of care was put into its restoration, especially on the Pratt & Whitney R-2000 Twin Wasp radial engines.
The museum's Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter and Douglas C-54 Skymaster transport aircraft are located in winter at Hangar B at the former Naval Air Station New York, Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York.
This is the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation's home base so there is a good chance you may find them there at other times between air shows. There is no food on site, but there are fast food restaurants about a mile and change up Flatbush Avenue to the north. The airfield is now a run by the US National Park Service and is right off Flatbush Avenue near the Belt Parkway. Coming from the Belt Parkway you will see the airfield on the left but seemingly no way to turn left. You must go almost to the toll both before the next bridge to be able to make that left into the airfield. It is NOT the hangar you see near the fence on Flatbush Avenue. Once you pass the entrance gate you make the first left, drive down a main runway for a few hundred feet, then turn right and continue down that runway to the end. The hangar is ahead of you on the right, and also houses the Historic Aircraft Preservation Association year round so there are always aircraft to see whatever time of year you go. Admission to the museum was free, but donations are accepted and more than welcome.
As these are both unmodified working transport aircraft, they are not handicapped accessible. A mobile airport stairway is used to enter the C-54 and should be no problem for anyone who can handle stairs. A fold down stairwell allows entrance to the C-97 lower cargo deck. There are no handrails on this stairwell. Once inside on the lower cargo deck you will need to be able to climb a ladder to get to the flight deck. If you catch the C-97 at an air show, they might have the rear loading ramp deployed which would allow access to the flight deck level without your having to negotiate a ladder.
Visit the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation's Website for their air show schedule to find out when they will be at an airfield near you. If you are local to the the New York Tri State area near Floyd Bennett Field, pay these guys a visit. Or better yet, offer to volunteer. The crew are dedicated and friendly and welcoming and there is always a lot to do no matter what your skill level is.
Floyd Bennett Field is also the home to the Historic Aircraft Restoration Project and their aircraft, so there are even more airplanes to see during your visit.
9/27/2009 - Media Flash! PBS (Channel 13 in the NYC area) aired the half hour show "City of Parks" which includes a segment on Floyd Bennett Field and HARP. BAHF's C-97 made it into a couple of scenes in the show. If you missed it, PBS has City of Parks online with the Floyd Bennett Field segment. Click on Chapter 4 to go directly to the Floyd Bennett Field segment.