A reminder of how far we’ve come
Many people link FedEx to the birth of air freight for the masses, but for me it brings up different images. When FedEx delivers to my door I think of the Berlin Airlift in 1948. I’m also reminded of the extensive logistics capabilities that have historically provided our nation the ability to rapidly project humanitarian and security capabilities across the globe in response to crisis situations.
After World War II, the U.S. fed and supported the besieged city of West Berlin using air freight, and air freight alone. Tempelhof Airport was an air freight hub long before FedEx fired up Memphis. Since then, the U.S. has repeatedly demonstrated the capabilities and agility of logistics to strategically and tactically move people, equipment, and support assets to emergent locations, in the required configuration, and at the right time. These examples from our past have demonstrated the awesome power of what air freight and smart logistics could do.
Last week, I was driving home from a vacation at Rehoboth Beach and saw the sign for the Dover Air Force Base Air Mobility Command Museum. My Dad is a retired Navy Master Chief and was a flight engineer on C-54s (military version of a DC-4) and C-118s (military version of a DC-6), cargo haulers for the U.S. Navy during the 50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, so I stopped in.
The AMC Museum has more than 30 aircraft spanning the past 80+ years, mostly cargo haulers but also a B-17 and some fighters and helos. I’ve flown on several of these birds, and I most certainly depended on receiving logistics support from many of the others during my numerous deployments across the globe throughout my 30+ years on active duty as a Marine.
After my visit at the AMC Museum, I reflected on how far we have progressed in the past 80 years. Think about the payload capacity and speed & range available with a C-47 Skytrain (DC-3), the workhorse predecessor of the C-54/DC-4 Skymaster, compared to the enormous capacity and speed/range of the C-5 Galaxy.
For a big portion of the mid-twentieth century the C-47 Skytrain (DC-3) was state of the art for moving cargo by air. But the rapid acceleration of capacity and reliability in the following decades exponentially improved the ability to move cargo and improve delivery times as we reaped the benefits of technology and process improvements. Now we experience almost instantaneous delivery after clicking on an icon on our computer or in our inventory management system. A good many of these delivery performance improvements are a result of our national defense investments and mechanisms.
In both our work and personal experiences, when we place our orders and can receive exactly what we ordered in 24-48 hours or less, we should be mindful about how that capability came about.
It’s not a stretch to say that Amazon, FedEx, and contemporary logistics in America have their roots in the military, not Memphis.