Berlin: ‘Raisin Bombers’ to Perform Flyovers for Airlift Anniversary

Berlin is in for a historic show. Seventy years after the lifting of the Berlin Blockade, so-called Raisin Bombers will be flying over Tempelhof Airport and Brandenburg Gate. It will probably be the last time historic flights of this kind take place.

On June 24th, 1948, three years after General Alfred Jodl declared Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender, the Soviets started the Berlin Blockade, by blocking all land and water routes to West Berlin in an attempt to starve the city. Of course that step was against international law.

In cooperation with the British, the French and other nations, the Americans quickly organized what is known as the Berlin Airlift. By sending relief flights from West Germany to West Berlin, with a total of 12,000 tons of food and other items, such as coal for heating, hundreds of thousands of residents were saved.

A McDonnell DC-4 is parked at Tempelhof Airport. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

There were far more than 200,000 flights until the Soviets finally lifted the Berlin Blockade on May 12th, 1949, seventy years ago today. West Berliners called those planes Raisin Bombers, also because their crews used to drop sweets for West Berlin’s children before landing at Tempelhof Airport, or right after taking off again.

For those flights, especially the Americans and the British mostly used twin-engine C47s, also known as DC-3s, and C54s, which were Air Force planes based on the McDonnell DC-4, with four engines. One DC-4, which is not flightworthy, is parked in front of Tempelhof Airport’s huge hangars today. Some JU 52s were part of the Airlift too.

Now, 70 years later, anniversary celebrations in Berlin will commemorate the Airlift. First of all, Governing Mayor Michael Müller has invited all residents and tourists to Tempelhof Airport on May 12th, 2019 from 12:00 noon to 7:00 p.m., for the main commemoration event.

The DC-4 in Tempelhof may not be airworthy, but it is a beauty. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

A month later, in June, Raisin Bomber overflights will take place. Berliners who are at least 75 years old might remember what those planes looked like in the sky over Berlin, along with their sound. They will be reminded, while younger Berliners might experience that kind of display for the first and last time.

The organizers from the association ‘Förderverein Luftbrücke Berlin 70‘ announced the participation of a total of 40 aircraft. Those are owned by veterans, museums, foundations and associations around the world. What this means is that some participating aircraft will cross the Atlantic Ocean in order to take part.

A flight of this kind is rather complicated with DC-3s or DC-4s. They will have to refuel wherever they can, such as in Nova Scotia, Reykjavik and Ireland, before finally reaching Berlin. Besides, they are very old planes. Trips of this kind are both dangerous and expensive. That is why it is most likely the last time anything like this will ever happen.

Fifteen Raisin Bombers will come from the United States of America. Another two DC-4s will be flying in from South Africa. Twenty-three participating aircraft are based in Europe.

The organizers originally wanted the Raisin Bombers to land at Tempelhof Airport, which was closed to all air traffic for good in 2008. Because of the anniversary, the Berlin Senate Administration checked whether exception permits could be granted, but it does not look good.

Therefore overflights will likely be the highlight of the commemorations in June. Flying over Tempelhof is not so complicated, regarding necessary permissions, but overflying Brandenburg Gate is. That is because flights over the city center are generally forbidden since September 11th, 2001. But the Raisin Bombers will be right above Brandenburg Gate.

Those flights will commence in Frankfurt, Wiesbaden (both in Hesse), Fassberg (‘Faßberg’, in Lower Saxony) and Jagel (Schleswig-Holstein), where the Berlin Airlift flights originated from seven decades ago. Before they take off towards Berlin, commemoration events will take place there too.

On June 10th, 2019, the first of those events is scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m. at Wiesbaden-Erbenheim Airport. It will last all day. On June 12th after 9:00 a.m., several Rasin Bombers will take off towards Fassberg Airfield, where they are supposed to land at around noon.

June 13th is the day of events on Jagel and Fassberg, involving original Raisin Bombers. The next day, on June 14th, a big Berlin Airlift commemoration event is scheduled to take place in Fassberg.

On June 15th, the historic aircraft will be taking off towards Berlin from Jagel and Fassberg. An overflight in Berlin is supposed to happen at 5:00 p.m.. Another overflight in Berlin is scheduled for Sunday June 16th at 1:00 p.m., according to the organizers.