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Capital Air Show 2013

Spirit of Benovia at the Capital Airshow, Sacramento's Mather Field October 5-6, 2013

By Jeff Coffman

To some, Col. Gail Halvorsen, USAF (Ret.) was known as "Uncle Wiggle Wings."   To others he was one of  "The Candy Bombers."

The nicknames pay homage to a man whose generosity and warm heart led him to lift the spirits of children in war-weary Germany in the late 1940s, at the very cusp of the Cold War.

Now 93, Halvorsen got the opportunity to relive those days with flights aboard the Spirit of Benovia at the Capital Airshow at Sacramento's Mather Field, Oct. 5th and 6th.  The DC-3, with Halvorsen and myself on board, flew in the show and participated in the tribute to the 65th Anniversary of the Berlin Airlift.

It was an emotional reunion before a crowd of roughly 20,000 people each day.  Among those spectators were nine of the Berlin children who remember the Candy Bombers.

During the airlift and shortly before landing at the Tempelhof airport in the American sector of Berlin, Halvorsen would parachute candy to children below.  This action, which was dubbed Operation Little Vittles and sparked similar efforts by other crews, was the source of the popular name for the pilots: The Candy Bombers.

Halvorsen wanted to help raise the morale of the children during the time of uncertainty and privation.  He started by handing a few treats to children watching the planes from outside the Tempelhof base.  He promised to drop more candy from his plane the next day. Because the planes would arrive nearly every three minutes, the children couldn't distinguish his aircraft from the others. However, Halvorsen promised to wiggle the wings to identify himself, which led to his nickname "Onkel Wackelflügel" ("Uncle Wiggly Wings"). The other American candy bombers became known as the Rosinenbomber (Raisin Bombers). Halvorsen's initiative drew the attention of the operation's commanding officer, Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner, who approved of it and ordered it expanded into Operation Little Vittles.

The operation was soon noticed by the press and gained widespread attention. A wave of public support led to donations that enabled Halvorsen and his crew to drop 850 pounds of candy. By the end of the airlift, around 25 plane crews had dropped 23 tons of chocolate, chewing gum and other candy over various places in Berlin. The Confectioners Association of America donated large amounts to the effort, and American school children cooperated in attaching the candies to parachutes.

Thanks to the generosity of the DC-3's owners -- Joe Anderson and his wife, Mary Dewane -- Col. Halvorsen, also was reunited with the joy of flying one of his most favorite airplanes.  The smile on his face was priceless as he sat behind the controls while we circled overhead the show.  To top it off, the Spirit of Benovia was voted the most beautiful warbird on the ramp, by spectators, pilots and other warbird owners.

Benovia is an amalgam of the names of the owners' fathers -- Ben and Novian.   It's also the name of the owners' northern California winery.

 

 

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