Sir Freddie Lochner,
INTERVIEW WITH GAIL HALVORSEN-18/12/95
Q: Gail, how did you become a pilot?
A: Well, I was a farm boy and my face down in the dirt all that time seeing the airplanes in blue - I wanted to be up there with them. So I started to study aviation and got a scholarship for a private pilot license in a competition and that's how I started before the war started, for us, in 1941, summer of '41
Q: And how did you get involved in what was then the US Army Air Corps?
A: Well the Army Air Corps, and how I got involved with that is interesting. They came around with a travelling team, gave a test at Utah State University in Utah, and I went over, took the test, was accepted and that's what I wanted to do was fly, and - militarily I had a better chance, bigger airplanes and the war was right there. So, I said that's what I want to do.
Q: And how did you become eventually a transport pilot?
A: I became a transport pilot, kind of a fluke. The airforce let me fly, I learned to fly with the Royal Airforce, number three British flying training school, which were aimed at fighter aircraft application. But when I went back to the United States Airforce, they needed transport pilots. I said, 'Hey, I'll fly whatever you tell me.' So I ended up in transport ops, instead of fighters and that's what I was in during the war and - to the end and after the war, in transport operations.
Q: What kind of aircraft were you flying?
A: Well I started out in, in [Gooney Birds], all DC3, the C47, and the Dakota, and, and this was standard for a while. Flew it in South America. While in South America we brought down a few C54s, DC4, four-engined, beautiful aeroplane, nose gear, and I was able to get one of those aeroplanes. So I started flying that in 1945, and '46 and, South America first and then back into West Palm Beach, Florida, Foreign Transport Ops. That's how we got in the C54. Now I've flown all kinds of different airplanes. I've flown fighter types, but that's for recreation, and twin-engined bombers, B25s B26s and I've flown - a variety of aircraft, for the fun of it, and for some transport with those aircraft. But, my aeroplane I liked best was the C54 we used during the Berlin airlift.
Q: Why did you like the C54?
A: Well that was the Cadillac of transport operation. It was pretty new on the scene, fairly new design, handled - the characteristics in weather, they were particularly good: a stable aeroplane. In very violent weather you could still control it and the way it responded. It wasn't a fast aeroplane, but it was an efficient cargo carrier with, on a short haul, twenty-thousand pounds payload. I'd flown just before the airlift a C74, which was the forerunner of the 124, and it was a huge aeroplane and it would gross out seventy-five thousand pounds of cargo. And we used that in the airlift to haul in bulldozers that were cut up and this sort of thing, support odd ... Thought that was the kind of experience I'd had in aircraft generally up to that time.
Q: June 1948. How did you get involved in the airlift?
A: Well I was flying transport into South America and Central America. I had a pilot meeting when I came back from a trip, and Colonel Cassidy says, 'Hey, they're giving us trouble in Berlin, and they're going to cut of access and got to get some aeroplanes ready. Who wants to go?' And I said my - girl friend wasn't riding me well, my wife now, but so I said, 'I'm gonna - I'd like to go.' So I volunteered to fly the airlift. Went early July 1948 to Rheinmein Started flying out of there, about three round trips a day at first, because we just didn't have enough aircraft to fly in the four thousand five hundred pounds that was needed for survival diet, so we were flying three round trips a day when it started.
Q: How long did you think you'd be doing this?
A: Well I thought it would be two or three weeks at the most. I thought, our rotas are for twenty-eight days, so it couldn't be longer than twenty-eight days this thing would last. And I thought, by that time we'd, we'd return home. Short expectation.