A rare vintage aircraft took to the skies over Leesburg Sunday as part of a continuing effort to preserve the Leesburg home of Gen. George C. Marshall, the man credited with helping Europe recover from the ravages of World War II.

Gathered on the ground at Leesburg Airport were Leesburg Town Council member Christine Forester and other town officials and guests who had come to join in the celebration and take a 30-minute trip in the silver and black 1936 Junkers Ju-52. The Ju-52 rumbled and lurched down the airstrip and then soared gracefully 1,500 feet into the air.

On board passengers peered out of windows and chatted excitedly in the narrow 16-seat cabin of the aircraft as it circled low over Leesburg, tipping its wings in a salute as it passed over Dodona Manor, Marshall's 19th century mansion.

Up in the Ju-52's glass-domed cockpit, the German pilot, an experienced jet pilot who volunteered his services for the sheer joy of flying such an unusual aircraft, grinned broadly as he banked the plane sharply to avoid a looming hill and then straightened out to follow the course of the Potomac up toward Harpers Ferry, V.Wa.

In flight the old plane behaved very differently from today's more sophisticated machines, and when it swayed from side to side as it tipped its wings once again in a greeting to a glider soaring far below, passengers glanced nervously about.

Now owned and operated by Lufthansa Airlines of Germany, the Ju-52 was once the work horse of civil air fleets across pre-war Europe. But of the 5,000 made, only a few remain in operation.

Meticulously restored at Lufthansa's maintenance base in Hamburg in 1984, the Ju-52, which arrived at Dulles International Airport Oct. 6, is now in the middle of a one-year, 30-city U.S. tour, giving "good will" rides in support of various causes, according to Lufthansa representative Frauke De Looper. Originally scheduled for Saturday, the flight over Leesburg had to be put off until a broken engine part was replaced.

The flight was organized by the George C. Marshall Home Preservation Fund and Lufthansa in an attempt to publicize the fund's efforts to raise $1.2 million toward the $3.4 million needed for the purchase of Dodona Manor.

The brick Federalist house, built in the 1820s, was put up for sale last year by Marshall's heirs.

Once the property has been purchased, preservation fund executive director Diana Keesee said that by 1992 the fund intends to build a conference center on the grounds "that will make the property in Leesburg a hub of international trade activities."

Marshall, who died in 1959, was the originator of the $13 billion European Recovery Program, known as the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt the economies of Europe in the aftermath of World War II and for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.

"Marshall means a great deal to the Germans, unfortunately and surprisingly much more than to the average American," said fund President B. Powell Harrison. "You would think we would know our own heroes better."