Before The Colors Fade: Berlin Airlift Commander


Since the Communists could invoke a blockade of Berlin again should they be so inclined, I am often asked what differences there would be in a lift today. Instead of three hundred airplanes, the same job could be done now with a single squadron of about twenty. Instead of eleven airports, only two would be needed—one at each end. No landings would be needed at the destination because of new air-delivery techniques. Freight would be loaded on pallets in a very few minutes. Today’s much bigger planes would make a pass about ten feet above the destination runway, a chute would be popped, and the cargo would be yanked out the rear end and would skid along the runway without damage, thanks to modern packaging.

General Tunner eventually became the Air Force’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and subsequently commander of the Military Air Transport Service, now the Military Airlift Command (MAC). He retired from active duty in 1960. Now a member of the board of directors of Seaboard World Airlines, he also serves from time to time as an air-transport consultant. In October of 1968 UNICEF sent him to Biafra to observe airlift operations there. Immediately afterward he went to Vietnam, Okinawa, and Korea on a similar mission for MAC. His home base is a farm in Ware Neck, Virginia, where, he says, “I raise a few sheep myself and grow soybeans by virtue of the work of a farmer who shares the crops.” He is also at work on a novel, “half finished, I hope,” on pilots—transport and military.

Mot Juste, with Blarney