Operation Haylift, 1952: How to deliver hay at 150 miles an hour
March 30, 1952
On this date in 1952 five Officers and Airmen of the South Dakota Air National Guard participated in “Operation Haylift”. March 30, 1952 was the fourth day of the mission that lasted until April 11, 1952. The South Dakota Air Guard unit had been issued two C-47s in 1946. The “Gooney Bird” that flew in “Operation Haylift” completed a total of 27 emergency flight missions. This amounted to the unit dropping 2,412 bales of hay to starving cattle. Unusually heavy amounts of drifted snow had stranded cattle in the fields of Western and Central South Dakota.
Feeding cattle from 200 feet and flying at 150 miles per hour was not an easy task. The C-47 cargo door had been removed, and the men who were to eject the hay were tethered to the aircraft’s interior. Each flight carried about two tons of hay. One crew member from a similar mission in 1949 reported: “We loosened about four bales at a time and shoved them in front of the door which was just large enough to let one bale out at a time, we didn’t dare stack them for fear that one might hit the tail.” He compared the operation to dropping paratroopers into a battle zone. “When the plane passed over the target at about 200 feet a green light would go on next to the door, then we would start heaving the bales….until a red light indicated the target was passed. Then the pilot would gain altitude, make a big circle, and make the run again. Traveling at an airspeed of 150 miles an hour the plane passed the target area quickly and we had to make about 10 passes to drop all the hay.”
Two additional events occurred during this late March, early April time frame. Sandbags were flown to a flooded area on the Sioux River. On the fifth day of the hay lift the unit’s home airbase at Sioux Falls became flooded by the Sioux River, which necessitated operating from the Mitchell Airfield for the duration of the haylift.
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