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C-54 Skymaster “Spirit of Freedom”
damage estimated near $225,000 US

Story and photos by Gord McNulty
CAHS Vice President

 C 54 at EAA AirVenture 2007

Ready to roll. The Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation C-54 at EAA AirVenture, Oshkosh, WI, in 2007.

Aviation enthusiasts were dismayed when the prized Douglas C-54 Skymaster “Spirit of Freedom” of the Berlin Airlift Historical Association was heavily damaged by a tornado that struck South Carolina on April 13. The cost of repairs to this famous aircraft, previously flown by the Toronto-based Millardair cargo service as a DC-4, is estimated at $175,000 to $225,000 US and possibly more.

The C-54 was parked at a regional airport in Walterboro, SC, where it has been since Dec. 18 for the installation of a new transponder to comply with a Federal Aviation Administration mandate. The tornado hit about 6:50 a.m., picking up the aircraft and moving it 160 yards, where it landed on top of a hangar.

The “Spirit of Freedom,” invariably a leading attraction at aviation events in North America, has a rich history. It has been flown to air shows in Canada. A genuine veteran of the Berlin Airlift, C-54E S/N 27370 was originally delivered to the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1945. It was then among 25 C-54Es transferred to the U.S. Navy Air Transport Service and redesignated as R5D-4s.

Serving with Squadron VR-3, it was assigned to the Berlin Airlift, making transatlantic flights from the U.S. to Germany in support of two Navy squadrons. Then it flew with the U.S. Marines, as 90414, in cargo and personnel transport and finally VIP service. In fact, 90414 is pictured in 1957 to illustrate the R5D in a graphic history, U.S. Marine Corps Aircraft 1914-1959, by William T. Larkins.

After the C-54 was retired from military service, Carl Millard (CAHS #2792) of Millardair acquired it in April 1978. Registered C-GQIB, it was named “The Skytrader,” and was used to ferry auto parts between Toronto and Detroit for the next 12 years. Carl purchased a total of eight Skymasters, designated DC-4s in the attractive predominately white Millardair paint scheme. The impressive fleet included DC-3s, Beech 18s, and more. (Air Transport in Canada, Vol. 2, by Larry Milberry, covers the fascinating Millardair story).

Tim Chopp, founder and president of the BAHF, located S/N 27370 in Canada in 1992 after a four-year search. Purchased for $125,000, it was ferried to the BAHF base in New Jersey in mid-1993 and painted in a scheme similar to that of the 48th Troop Carrier Squadron, one of the groups in the airlift.

The BAHF then displayed the aircraft as “a living, breathing flying exhibit,” commemorating the great Berlin Airlift of 1948-49. A total of 101 fatalities were recorded, including 40 Britons and 31 Americans. Twenty-five crashes occurred, including 17 American and eight British aircraft. Some 330 C-54s were part of the operation.

The “Spirit” houses a full-fledged museum exhibit filled with artifacts, photos, a computer animated tour guide and other Airlift related items. It has told the story for more than 25 years and completed a 70-day European Tour in May 1998 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Airlift.

The Foundation has an excellent website ( A fundraising campaign to help repair the C-54 is now under way. Donations can be made by consulting the website.

C 54 Skymaster Spirit of Freedom 2007

Up and away. The C-54 Skymaster “Spirit of Freedom” made an impression at EAA AirVenture, Oshkosh, in 2007.