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The History of Placid Lassie, WWII Combat Veteran

The History of Placid Lassie, WWII Combat Veteran

By Ben Smith - Placid Lassie pilot, board member, Tunison Foundation

Photo Credit: Tunison Foundation

42-24064 was built in Long Beach, California, turned over to the USAAF in July 1943, and assigned to the 74th Troop Carrier Squadron (Alliance, Nebraska). A crew was assigned to the aircraft, flew her throughout the war, and named her “Placid Lassie”. In September 1943 the 74th was given orders to move to England. Winter had closed the northern route, so they flew the South Atlantic route, and arriving in England in October. The 74th trained there from October 1943 to June 1944.

D-DAY: CHICAGO mission towing a glider of troops and equipment for the 101st Airborne Division.  Glider release was at 0400 near Hiesville, France.  Placid Lassie returned to Normandy for a second mission on D-Day.

MARKET GARDEN: Dropped the 101st, towed gliders of troops and equipment of the 101st & 82nd, and dropped supplies for both divisions. 

Relief of Bastogne: Flew three combat resupply missions on 23, 24, and 26 December 1944 dropping supplies on Bastogne for the surrounded 101st.

Operation VARSITY: Dropped members of 17th Airborne Division north of Wesel, Germany. 

Spring 1945: hauled freight and gasoline to the front and evacuated casualties (and later liberated POWs).  Most of the gasoline hauled was to supply Gen. Patton’s Third Army who had outrun their supply lines.

Then the war ended. Placid Lassie flew back to the U.S. in June 1945 and in Nov 1945 was sent to RFC Walnut Ridge, Arkansas to be sold as surplus.

Based in Oakland, CA, NATS Air Transport Service was incorporated in January 1946 by former pilots from the Naval Air Transport Service (NATS). Lassie was purchased on 6 Dec 1946, likely to replace a C-47 that fatally crashed in Laramie, WY on 17 Oct 1946.

The CAA changed the regulations for irregular carriers in 1947. Companies could no longer “hold out” flying scheduled service without being regulated as an airline. Enforcement actions were announced on 6 Aug 1948 with NATS ATS served on 17 Aug. Meanwhile NATS ATS had financial troubles since Feb 1947. Placid Lassie was seized by the IRS in Sept 1948 for non-payment of taxes.

On 10 Feb 1949 the CAA ruled that NATS ATS was improperly operating as an airline. Lawyers from United Airlines, TWA and American Airlines were present at the hearing. NATS ATS went bankrupt four days later. Placid Lassie was auctioned by the IRS on 24 Feb and bought by the mortgage holder.

Placid Lassie was purchased by West Coast Airlines on 16 May 1949 becoming their 6th airplane. Placid Lassie flew passenger routes from Boeing Field, WA down to Sacramento and out to Boise for the next 19 years. WCA merged with two other airlines in 1968 forming Air West. The remaining DC-3s were deemed surplus and sold off by January 1969.

Aero-Dyne operated out of Renton Airport, WA from 1965 to 1985. Aero-Dyne bought the last eight DC-3s from Air West. Placid Lassie was purchased in June 1968. They flew passenger charters, cargo, SEA-TAC fog suppression, smoke jumping, and type ratings.

Saber Aviation bought Placid Lassie on 12 April 1984. She flew cargo, mostly car parts, based out of Charlotte, SC. In June 1989 Saber was in breach of her mortgage. The bank repossessed Placid Lassie in March 1990.

Saber’s bank sold Placid Lassie in June 1991 to Express Air. She hauled cargo, first based first out of Greenville, NC and later Covington, GA. Circa 2000 Lassie had an engine issue and was parked. Express Air couldn’t pay the repair bills and dissolved in March 2000. The Covington FBO sued and won title to the abandoned aircraft in 2008.

In 2010 Clive Edwards and James Lyle decided to find a dead DC-3 and fly it to Oshkosh for the 75th DC-3 anniversary “Dak-Meet”. They bought Placid Lassie and undertook an intense eight-week project. Eric Zipkin joined the project. “Union Jack Dak” made it to Oshkosh.

James, with Eric as PIC, operated Placid Lassie from 2010 to 2017 including to Normandy in 2014. In 2017 James and Eric founded the Tunison Foundation, named after the last surviving crew member of Placid Lassie’s wartime crew who had recently passed, to fly Placid Lassie. The Tunison Foundation organized and led the 2019 D-Day Squadron Normandy mission.

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