Airlift During the Korean War

Airlift, aeromedical evacuation, and aerial refueling, the three elements of modern Air Mobility, were used together in combat for the first time during the Korean War. Airlift moved, inserted, and resupplied equipment and personnel throughout Korea despite constantly shifting battle lines.

Aeromedical evacuation allowed the swift transport of battle casualties to medical centers, resulting in the lowest death rate from wounds suffered U.S. forces in any war to date.

Aerial refueling provided the means to move large quantities of fighter aircraft from the United States to the Pacific and allowed them to remain over enemy territory longer.

Military Air Transport Service’s (MATS) fleet of C-47s, C-54s, C-97s, C-119s, and C-124s airlifted 214,000 passengers and 80,000 tons of cargo from the U.S. to staging areas in Japan.

Within the combat area, Combat Cargo Command, under the control of the Far East Air Force (FEAF) flew 210,343 sorties with an average of 210 aircraft, carried 391,763 tons of cargo and 2.6 million passengers, and airdropped 15,000 tons of supplies and equipment. About 386,000 patients were airlifted to medical treatment centers.

Air Mobility—delivering anything, anywhere, any time—came of age during the Korean War and continues in today’s Air Force.

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I was stationed on K-54 (C’ho Do Island) from October ’52 to July ’53. All personnel access to and from there as well as air drops was handled mostly by C-47 Gooney Birds both from the USAF and Royal Hellenic AF. Our landing strip was a beach – at low tide – 8/10 mile between mountains (twin mountains at the north end), so landing and takeoff was a real art. Landing approach was from the north, and involved coming in just above the twin mountains, lifting one wing over one peak, the other wing over the second peak, then lower the landing gear, touch down and stand on the brakes. Taking off was southbound, and another art in itself. We’d tug the Gooney till the tail wheel was in the rocks at the north end. The pilots would stand on the brakes and rev the engines till the bird was ready to fly apart, snap off the brakes and as soon as the aircraft was (hopefully) at flying speed, they’d retract the landing gear, pull hard on the yokes and pray.

The air drops were another story entirely. During the warm seasons we’d get most of our supplies from the Nave via LSTs. However in the winter months – the Yellow Sea was frozen as solid as the Arctic ocean, so we got what they could send via air drop. On one occasion when we were getting a drop from a Greek gooney, the loadmaster kicked a sack of flour out of the aircraft w/o a parachute. Unfortunately it landed on the mess hall supply Quonset, broke through it, landed in the sugar bin and broke open. For a while we had very sweet bread and very thick coffee.

Rob, Thank you for Serving. My dad was stationed at Hickham and flew MATS c54, C97’s and c124’s. He passed away in 1992 but I’m trying to get records regarding his service to put together a book of his accomplishments to hand down to the generations to come in honor of him. I appreciate all of our service members!