NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - He was one of the first African American civilian airshow aerobatic pilots in the country, but Franklin Augustus will be remembered for much more than his impact on aviation.
His loved ones say his legacy lies most in his passion and personality.
By the time Taps echoed through the Lakefront Airport Terminal Saturday afternoon (Aug. 31), honoring Augustus’ inspiring life, there was barely a place to stand as crowds packed in to say a final goodbye.
Wilma Heaton, the chairwoman for the Lakefront Management Authority, was among those who spoke at the services.
“[This is] a tribute and a celebration of Franklin,” Heaton said. “This is hard for us to do, but it would be even harder not to.”
Augustus died in a plane crash on Aug. 16, along with FOX 8′s cherished anchor, Nancy Parker, who was working on a story about Augustus. The two were taking a ride in his plane when it started having engine trouble and crashed, fatally injuring them both.
Heaton said the large attendance at Saturday’s last minute tribute speaks volumes about who Augustus was and the impact he had others.
“He was a beloved human being,” she said.
It was fitting Augustus would be honored at the Lakefront Airport, as the 69-year-old pilot of nearly 50 years was a fixture there.
“He would come in and his entire smile would get there 20 feet before him,” Heaton said.
Joe Bartels, president of the Lakefront Hanger Association, echoed Heaton’s sentiments and remembered Augustus as an enamoring and bright person.
“When you were doing anything for yourself at the airport, if Franklin came by, you couldn’t do it. You had to devote your attention to Franklin,” Bartels said.
“How could you tell him ‘no’?” Heaton asked. “You just moved everything around and made way, because of his passion.”
And that passion was fierce, both for flying and for inspiring young people.
Henry Augustus said his brother’s missions were undeniable genuine -- including the fictional character he would dress up as to keep kids off drugs and in school.
“As a brother sometimes, I can’t lie, I just didn’t want to hear it, but I knew those dreams were important to him,” he said.
Elren Waddell, Augustus’ longtime friend, said another cause was dear to his heart.
“Increase black men in aviation. The love of his life was aviation,” Waddell said.
Cherished in that community, many of those who spoke helped to chronicle Augustus’ remarkable journey in the field of becoming not just a pilot, but a true aviator.
“As a young man, he was told he would never be a pilot,” Heaton said.
But as friend and fellow pilot Paul Klein said, Augustus stayed true to form and would not take no for an answer.
“So much for that,” Klein said, choking up. “He turned out to be the best of the best.”
In addition to being a groundbreaking aviator, Augustus was remembered for his accomplishments as a leader of the Tuskegee Airmen Lake Charles Chapter, a special reserve deputy with Orleans Parish sheriff’s office and a respected martial artist.
“People don’t know how many talents Frank had,” Eric O’Neal, Sr. said.
But it wasn’t just his talent these friends and loved ones admired, it was who he was -- Augustus’ enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, generosity, sense of humor and his heart.
“Once you met him, you would never forget him,” Waddell said,
“He was just the kind of guy you knew you wanted as a friend,” Bartels said. “Franklin, we’re gonna miss you.”
Augustus’ friends said they hope to create a scholarship at the University of New Orleans in his name, to encourage students to pursue a career in aviation.