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Hope in dark times! Skymaster being restored in Northweald and restoring lives at the same time!

27 Jan Hope in dark times! Skymaster being restored in Northweald and restoring lives at the same time!

This is a story about never giving up no matter how impossible the odds might seem. A story needed to be told in these turbulent times of lockdown and the COVID pandemic.

It all began in 2017, when Allan Vogel was introduced to a gentleman who for the last 45 years has been responsible for the scrapping and disposal of aircraft all over the world. He had acquired two Douglas C-54 Skymaster aircraft that had previously been purchased in 2002 by HBO to take part in a Steven Spielberg/ Tom Hanks film about the Berlin Airlift.

Three aircraft were originally selected and only two made the long journey to England from the USA back in 2002. Sadly, the film about the Candy Bomber did not materialize and the film was scrapped. Several years later these aircraft were made available for sale and they were purchased by a UK film company, Aces High only to be sold for scrap a few years later. They held onto the aircraft for a few more years then they were sold again to be scrapped.

Allan personally watched one ex Berlin Airlift C-54 being cut into pieces and sold for scrap and it was then that he approached the new owner and asked him to consider sparing the aircraft and he agreed to give him three months to find a new home for this aircraft otherwise its fate was sealed. This is the last surviving C-54 in the UK. Out of the thousands of C-54s that served during WW2 no other examples are to be found here.

Allan wrote to the Smithsonian Museum for records of this aircraft and a month later it was discovered that it served with the US Navy and US Marines during WW2, Korea and Vietnam. It had a long an illustrious career spanning some 30 years. A career of bringing back wounded soldiers from the frontline, flying in vital supplies and bringing thousands of litres of blood when needed. C-54 Douglas Skymaster literally serving as mercy ship of the air.

One of the journeys travelled by our C-54 was a long-distance flight in early 1946 from Japan to Honolulu, to San Francisco to Delaware, NY. It landed at a top-secret airbase carrying precious cargo – British survivors of the Burma Rail Road!

Another example of how she played a vital role in saving lives was in ‘Operation Magic Carpet’ in 1949.Some 49 000 Yemenite Jews were airlifted to Israel from Yemen, Aden, and Saudi Arabia in a covert operation, only made public only some 7 months later.

And women played a major role in the history of hope with the Skymaster. These incredible flight nurses, known as Angels of the Skies enabled wounded troops to be removed from the battlefield and flown out to hospital back home. This service was only possible to this group of highly trained heroic ladies.

Flight nurses saved thousands of lives but received little recognition for their service.

But now – after achieving so much over the years, Skymaster 56498, literally bringing life to thousands over time was considered to be of no more worth than scrap.

Armed with the historical information from the Smithsonian, Allan urgently appealed to the owner to spare the aircraft. He agreed to gift it to the Trust that had been formed on condition that it is made airworthy to fly again.

Before long however, it was apparent that this icon of an aeroplane could not only be restored to the skies, she could also carry on bringing hope and relief to the vulnerable just as she had done for over 3 decades. It was decided to apply for Charity status to make this a reality and ‘Save the Skymaster’ was officially born.

We, at Save the Skymaster decided that War veterans, facing isolation and unemployment – all exasperated by the COVID Pandemic, could have their lives transformed by working side by side with the Engineers who volunteer their time. This means that the veterans lives have purpose, routine and comradeship whilst learning vital skills to be used one day in the work place.

We are planning to put together a special training programme wherein we take in 20 Veterans for three months and train them up in the theoretical and practical side of Engineering in the Aviation industry. For as long as we have sufficient funding, this training will go on, effectively empowering these Veterans to find work one day.

Also, engineering graduates who had lost the opportunity of progressing with their internships because of the Pandemic can now complete the same whilst working on the Skymaster following the STEM syllabus (Science, technology, Engineering and Maths). Stanstead Airport university have shown much excitement with this venture.

And so, our story is about even more than just bringing hope to many. This story demonstrates victory in the face of adversity. Just as when the Skymaster was facing the scrap yard – with seemingly no future, everything turned around and she is being restored to the skies where she belongs whilst uplifting so many in the process. C-54 Skymaster 56498 – still a beacon of hope despite the odds.

The ‘Save the Skymaster’ story is relevant today midst the turmoil of COVID, unemployment and desperation. No matter how bad it may seem – your dreams can still be realized to become a reality. It is all about not giving up – you will also rise to new heights.

It is as Leonardo Da Vinci said – “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk with your eyes turned skyward. For there you have been, and there you will return.’