I did my first ever GCA approach with the controller using the same equipment that helped keep millions of people safe almost 70 years ago.
In 1948 it was clear cooperation between wartime allies USA and USSR was over. The Soviet Union blocked access to Berlin by road, rail, and ship. Eventually the USA and UK supplied the blockaded citizens of Berlin with everything they needed for a year, by air. It was the largest airlift ever. The USA proved a commitment to freedom and democracy in Europe in the post-WWII era. Transport airplanes landed in Berlin every three minutes, 24 hours per day, seven days a week regardless of the often horrible weather.
Pilots relied on something called a GCA – Ground Controlled Approach – to get on the ground safely. Instead of navigating through the clouds to the runway using his own instruments, the pilot listened to a controller on the ground guide him to make small corrections left, right, up or down. The GCA controller could guide the transport pilots between tall buildings in Berlin to just a few feet above the ground – every three minutes. 24/7.
The base where I am stationed in Germany was the headquarters for the Berlin Airlift. The radar the GCA controllers used in 1948-49 is still here. It still works. It is still used by Army pilots today. And…
Yesterday, I did my first ever GCA approach with the controller using the same equipment that helped keep millions of people safe almost 70 years ago. The GCA itself was pretty cool and being slightly connected to that critical moment in European history was even better!
The picture below shows Air Force C-54 aircraft on the ramp in Wiesbaden in 1949. The airplanes are gone, but the runway, ramp, and mountains are still there. This is almost exactly the view out my office window! (The streets on the base are named after the men who died to keep Berlin safe and fed.)
Lean Uris wrote Armageddon, a great novel about the post-war occupation of Germany and the Berlin Airlift turned enemies into allies.