'Candy Bomber' Has a New LSA to Fly
Visit to EAA AirVenture LSA Mall Sparks Interest
November 8, 2007 — Col. Gail Halvorsen (USAF-Ret), the famous "Candy Bomber" who during the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49 dropped sweets in tiny, makeshift parachutes to children on the ground, is the new leaseholder of a Remos G-3 light-sport aircraft. The 87-year-old veteran flier arrived in Oshkosh at Orion Sport Aircraft on November 5 to get checked out in the new airplane, which he discovered a little more than three months ago while appearing at AirVenture with the Douglas C-54 Spirit of Freedom.
The vintage military cargo plane just happened to be parked next to AirVenture's LSA Mall, home to dozens of light-sport aircraft on display during the event. Although he had no intention of getting an LSA that week, Halvorsen found himself drawn to the area and in no time became enamored with the small planes.
"I didn't have anything in mind about these little airplanes," Halvorsen said. "But every time we had a little down time, I'd go look at them. And after I looked at them, I wanted to take a closer look." Oshkosh Remos dealer Jeff Gentz of Orion Sport Aircraft obliged, taking Halvorsen over to the Remos display.
"I opened the door and was immediately impressed," Halvorsen said. "The way it was put together really appealed to me." He later met Remos' regional manager Monte Bateman, and soon discovered that they were from the same area of Utah--Gail lives in Spanish Fork and Monte, Mapleton--only about 10 miles apart.
When he learned the Remos factory is located about an hour's drive from Berlin - his second home town - he said, "That's it-I'm hooked!"
Sitting in the cockpit with the control stick between his knees reminded him of flying a J-3 Cub in flight school. "I hadn't flown small planes for a long time, but I really liked the G-3," he said. When he returned home to Utah, Bateman took him for a full flight demonstration.
"He was very comfortable in it," Bateman recalled. "He immediately put it into steep turns, and controlled it incredibly well. It was a real fun experience to fly with Gail."
Halvorsen's intention this week was to get thoroughly checked out on the airplane while in Oshkosh, with the help of flight instructor David Champaign, before flying the plane back to Utah.
Halvorsen says he plans to use the G-3 when he makes visits to schools. "We go to schools, do a presentation on the Berlin Airlift, tell them about the importance of freedom and how grateful the kids in Berlin were. Then do a candy drop." The G-3's gull wing doors are easily removed, making the aircraft a suitable platform for the maneuver.
Halvorsen, who in the past has flown Taylorcraft, Porterfields, and other planes in his flying club, felt right at home getting back into a light airplane. "You are actually flying, not in a boxcar or something," he said. "You feel more like a bird than you do in one of those four-engine airplanes. It will take some getting used to--I hope I still remember how to do a slip."
Candy Bomber Provided Life's Inspiration
When the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift was commemorated in 1999, Juergen (Pete) Pietzner attended the festivities in Germany with hopes of meeting his hero, Col. Gail Halvorsen, but logistics prevented that from happening. A half-century earlier, Pietzner was 13 years old, dealing with postwar survival without food or electricity due to the Soviet blockade. The airlift, and Halvorsen's Candy Bomber missions for the children of Berlin, gave Pietzner a change of heart regarding the "enemy."
"The same people who were trying to kill us four years earlier were now trying to save us," he said. "I don't recall when the candy drops started, but I began to see them in a totally different light. Thanks to Col. Halvorsen and the other U.S. Air Force crews, my family and friends survived the blockade."
About four years ago, Pietzner attempted to meet Halvorsen while on a bus tour in Utah (where Halvorsen resides), but it didn't happen. He wanted to thank him personally for his efforts during the airlift.
"I would not have my life were it not for him," Pietzner said, who said Halvorsen inspired him to emigrate to the U.S. and join the Air Force. Pietzner served his adopted country for 22 years, reaching the rank of Technical Sergeant, then settled in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin.
That's only about an hour's drive from Oshkosh, so when he heard Halvorsen would appear at EAA AirVenture 2007, he made plans to attend and finally meet his hero and thank him personally, once and for all. Pietzner got his wish during the AirVenture Warbirds in Review presentation about the C-54, which featured Halvorsen. In fact, Pietzner and one other person were identified as Berliners and were called up to the front at the end of the presentation.
"I was very touched by his spirit and by his gratitude," the colonel said. "In the scheme of life, that changes everything - from the bleak to the bright, from the impossible to the doable. When people are grateful for something, it opens up channels of communications. It breaks that wall between former enemies."