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Veteran pens his place in history at AOPA Fly-InVeteran pens his place in history at AOPA Fly-In

Thank you, Franklin Payne, for giving a group of strangers who came together at a fly-in to admire a stately old airplane a moment they will remember forever.

World War II aircraft at AOPA Fly-In

  • World War II aircraft at AOPA Fly-In
    Franklin Payne, 92, of Winchester, Virginia, was a crew chief aboard the C-47 in France and Germany in World War II. He had his first reunion with the aircraft since then at the AOPA Fly-in on May 10. Photo by Dan Namowitz.
  • World War II aircraft at AOPA Fly-In
    D-Day Squadron C-47 "Virginia Ann" tucks into the formation that will drop jumpers into AOPA's eightieth anniversary Frederick Fly-In on Saturday, May 11. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • World War II aircraft at AOPA Fly-In
    Flying from the right seat to better maintain formation, Joe Fisher of Yuma, Arizona, captains the DC-3 "Flabob Express" into formation with the C-47s that will drop members of the Liberty Jump Team into AOPA's Frederick Fly-In. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • World War II aircraft at AOPA Fly-In
    The first paratrooper from the Liberty Jump Team exits C-47 "Placid Lassie" during the team's Saturday, May 11, jump into AOPA's eightieth anniversary Frederick Fly-In. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • World War II aircraft at AOPA Fly-In
    Over Frederick Municipal Airport, members of the Liberty Jump Team exit "Betsy's Biscuit Bomber," a C-47, during a D-Day memorial demonstration Saturday, May 11, at AOPA's Frederick Fly-In. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • World War II aircraft at AOPA Fly-In
    Members of the Liberty Jump Team help Rich Landry of Worcester, Massachusetts, right, don his gear before the team's demonstration during AOPA's Frederick Fly-In on Saturday, May 11. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • World War II aircraft at AOPA Fly-In
    Fourteen Liberty Jump Team members parachute from a Douglas C-47 aircraft into the AOPA Frederick Fly-In. Several of the historical World War II aircraft are flying overseas to Normandy, France, for the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day. Photo by David Tulis.
  • World War II aircraft at AOPA Fly-In
    Liberty Jump Team members parachute to the AOPA Frederick Fly-In from a Douglas C-47 aircraft, one of several that are flying overseas to Normandy, France for the Daks over Normandy seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day. Photo by David Tulis.
  • World War II aircraft at AOPA Fly-In
    Visitors to AOPA's eightieth anniversary Frederick Fly-In line up to tour C-47A "Miss Virginia," parked with five others on a Frederick Municipal Airport taxiway. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • World War II aircraft at AOPA Fly-In
    Aircraft that flew into Frederick Municipal Airport for AOPA's Frederick Fly-In on Saturday, May 11, line Runway 12/30. The runway was closed for the two-day event. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • World War II aircraft at AOPA Fly-In
    Garrett Fleishman flies turboprops for Tradewind Aviation, is a junior at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and flies the Tunison Foundation’s Douglas C-47 Placid Lassie. Photo by Dan Namowitz.

It was the kind of moment—an impromptu ceremony, simple yet deeply moving—that happens when people with a passion for something like aviation gather to celebrate what they love and pay homage to its past. And that’s just what a lively crowd was doing at the AOPA Fly-In and eightieth anniversary celebration May 10 and 11 at Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland.

An early morning drizzle had relented on the fly-in's opening day and a cold front was pushing through, but already clusters of showgoers were moving along the flight line—especially where an assemblage of Douglas DC–3 and C–47 aircraft awaited preparations for the day’s flyover of Arlington National Cemetery in honor of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944.

The flavor of aviation was all around, roaring into the sky from the runway just yards away, or stopping spectators in their tracks to look up as a flight of military training airplanes of a past era arrived overhead in formation, then banked away in salute.

Among the big Douglas taildraggers whose three-point posture on the ground irresistibly captivates the aviation-inclined imagination was Placid Lassie, a Douglas C–47 that was built in 1943, was assigned to the 74th Troop Carrier Squadron, and participated in the D-Day landings of Operation Neptune. Placid Lassie is now the property of the Tunison Foundation, a nonprofit named for Ed Tunison, a radio operator who by 2014 was the only surviving member of his Placid Lassie wartime crew, according to the foundation.

One of the pilots who get to fly Placid Lassie is Garrett Fleishman, a junior at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University who also works for Tradewind Aviation, a charter operator whose president, Eric Zipkin, is president of the Tunison Foundation’s board of directors.

Fleishman was showing me around Placid Lassie when we saw Tater, the airplane’s jumpmaster, also known by his real name, Mack Taylor, ushering a group of people up the steps at the rear of the aircraft.

Former C-47 crew chief Franklin Payne autographs the wall of <em>Placid Lassie</em>. Photo by Dan Namowitz.

An elderly man in a U.S. Army Air Corps cap was one of those who climbed aboard. Someone handed him a marker, and he began to write his name on the inside of Placid Lassie’s metal wall, near where other veterans had autographed the airplane.

His friends introduced me to him. Franklin Payne, 92, of Winchester, Virginia, was a C–47 crew chief in France and Germany during the war. Since then he had not had any contact with a C–47, he said.

Payne made the trip to the AOPA Fly-in accompanied by friends Ron Embrey and Eric Lindengren, and was provided with a ride to the flight line by fly-in staff. Patiently and unhesitatingly, he had made his way up Placid Lassie’s metal steps, which were still wet from morning showers, to add his inscription of honor to the other veterans’ autographs.

Finding a writing implement that would function on demand took a few moments, but nobody minded—seemingly least of all Payne.

Focused on his writing, one wonders if he sensed the impact his impromptu signing ceremony had on those who stood and watched him gently pen his place in history.

Then it was back down the steps and into the sunlight for Payne, with the thanks of new friends—for his service, for sharing his special moment, and for honoring the AOPA Fly-In with his presence—ringing in his ears.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: AOPA Events, Fly in, Pilots

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