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The History of Placid Lassie

Placid Lassie is the Tunison Foundation's 1943 Douglas C-47 Skytrain. Unlike many warbirds operating today, she is a real war hero. She is not an replica, or a deep restoration based upon parts from multiple separate airplanes. These same rivets crossed the English Channel on June 6th, 1944 in service of our country.

Douglas Aircraft Co.

Placid Lassie was built by the Douglas Aircraft Company in Long Beach, CA as a C-47 in July 1943 with S/N 42-24064. She cost $109,683 to build (just short of $2 million in 2023). She visited Fort Wayne, IN, Barstow, CA, and Mobile, AL before being assigned to the 74th Troop Carrier Squadron, 434th Troop Carrier Group, in August 1943.

U.S. Army Air Corps

The 74th TCS was based in Alliance, NE, where Lassie trained with her crew, who named her and her engines: Idling Ada (L) for Apodaca's wife and Eager Eileen (R) for Tunison's.

1Lt. Richard H. Lum, Pilot

1Lt. Ralph C. Lundgren, Co-Pilot

1Lt. Merton E. Eckert, Co-Pilot

1Lt. William E. Vaughn, Navigator

SSgt. Ed Tunison, Radio Operator

TSgt. Eddie A. Apodaca, Crew Chief

 

Her crew would remain the same for the duration of the war, with the exception of Eckert, who replaced Lundgren, who became the captain of his own C-47 after Operation Neptune. Lundgren was killed during Operation Market Garden in September 1944 when his C-47 crashed.

Operation Neptune

Placid Lassie made her way to Europe via the Southern Atlantic Route in late September 1943, and arrived in England on October 18th, 1943. Through the winter, the 434th TCG conducted parachutist training in Berkshire, England.

On the morning of June 6th, 1944, Lassie and the rest of the 74th TCS took off at 0200 hours to invade Normandy. In total, they carried 155 men and equipment for the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division in assault gliders. At about 0400, they dropped their gliders. Lassie returned to Normandy at 2100 hours towing another glider. Radio Operator Ed Tunison remembered that the sky was full of aircraft, in contrast to the relative silence of morning.

 

In the days following the D-Day Invasion, Lassie flew resupply missions into France in support of the 101st Airborne. 

Operation Market Garden

After D-Day, the 74th TCS provided logistical support and evacuation services across France. By September 1944, though, airborne support was needed to secure key bridges in the liberation of the Netherlands, a mission that became Operation Market Garden. Placid Lassie and the 74th TCS flew four missions, a combination of parachute drops and glider missions, over four days, making a key contribution to freedom in Holland.

Operation Repulse

By Christmastime 1944, Allied forces had continued to advance, but the 101st Airborne was encircled by German forces at Bastogne, during the Battle of the Bulge. Operation Repulse, in which Placid Lassie and the 74th TCS participated, was the airborne resupply of the 101st Airborne during this long and bloody battle. The C-47s flew three missions between December 23-26 to keep the 101st Airborne fighting.

Operation Varsity

Operation Varsity was the first crossing of the Rhine, taking place in March 1945. Placid Lassie and the 74th TCS dropped paratroopers from the 17th Airborne Division in Wesel, Germany. Varsity was the largest airborne operation to ever take place in a single day over a single location.

After Varsity, the 74th TCS remained busy, delivering cargo to advancing troops and evacuating casualties, sometimes landing just 4 miles behind the front lines.

Post-War Service

After the end of the war, Lassie returned to the U.S. and was sold to the Reconstruction Finance Company (RFC), which handled the disposal of surplus military aircraft for the government. After a short stint with a soon-bankrupt airline, Lassie, now N74589, joined West Coast Airlines in 1949, flying passengers out of Boeing Field (Seattle, WA) to destinations across the West, until 1968. From 1968 until 2000, Lassie served a variety of cargo operators in Washington, South Carolina, and Georgia.

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Derelict

Dodson International Air, the last of Lassie's cargo airline operators, operated DC-3s out of Covington, GA through the late 1990s and early 2000s. Lassie was parked in 2000 with engine problems and soon became derelict. The local FBO, Dixie Jet Services, sued Lassie's owners for non-payment, and the court awarded the FBO ownership of the C-47 in 2008.

Restoration

James Lyle, a British businessman based in New York, and Clive Edwards, a noted UK aircraft restoration specialist, teamed up in January 2010 to restore a DC-3 to airworthiness for the 75th anniversary of the type's first flight in 1935, hoping to bring one to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. In May 2010, they completed the sale and the team raced to restore Lassie, then still in cargo colors, in just seven weeks. Working 17 hour days, 7 days a week, they ultimately succeeded, arriving in Oshkosh mid-week.

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James Lyle

From 2010 to 2014, N74589 was known as Union Jack Dak in recognition of the Britannic roots of its owner. James Lyle had originally intended to sell the aircraft, but he greatly enjoyed flying N74589, particularly after historical research revealed that the DC-3 was actually a C-47, and, more importantly, a combat and D-Day veteran. He had her repainted in D-Day colors in advance of bringing Union Jack Dak to Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014, where Dutch historian Hans de Brok told the team that Ed Tunison, the wartime radio operator, was still alive and well. Ed was quickly flown to Normandy to reconnect with his airplane, where he told the team that she was known as Placid Lassie during the war.

Tunison Foundation

After returning to the U.S. in the fall of 2014, James Lyle continued to operate Placid Lassie for personal and commemorative flying, now based in Florida. In the interest of Lassie's continued preservation and airworthiness, he and Eric Zipkin, Lassie's chief pilot, set up the Tunison Foundation in 2017, shortly after Ed Tunison's passing in 2016. The Foundation began to operate Lassie regularly on the airshow circuit in 2018, and led the D-Day Squadron of 15 C-47s to return to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day in 2019. The Foundation's planned growth was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, but Lassie eventually found a permanent home in Poughkeepsie, NY in October 2022.

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The Future of Lassie

Since the fall of 2022, Foundation operations have shifted from a core group of sponsor-pilots to a nearly 100-strong volunteer corps dedicated to preserving and operating Lassie. The team plans to return to Europe in 2024 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day and the 75th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift as a part of the D-Day Squadron's Legacy Tour. Beyond 2024, it's the Foundation's goal to keep operating Placid Lassie to educate future generations for as long as possible.

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Ed Tunison's Oral History

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