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Mon, May 26, 2003

Classic Tri-Motor To Fly In Detroit

Flight Ops Mark Ford Centennial

To coincide with Ford Motor Company's 100th anniversary, EAA's 1929 Ford Tri-Motor will make a rare visit to Michigan in June. "The public is invited to experience true living history and the magic of flight in the world's first mass-produced airliner," said EAA in a statement to Aero-News Network.

Flight ops will be conducted at Pentastar Aviation FBO, located at Oakland County (Pontiac) International from June 6-8 and again June 16-20. From June 9-15, the airplane will be on static display in preparation for and as part of the Ford Centennial Celebration's "Taking Flight" display at the Dearborn Proving Grounds.

The Model T Of The Skies

Henry Ford mobilized millions of Americans and created a new market with his Model T "Tin Lizzie" automobile from 1909 to 1926. After World War I he recognized the potential for mass air transportation. Ford's Tri-Motor aircraft, nicknamed "The Tin Goose," was designed to build another new market, airline travel. To overcome concerns of engine reliability, Ford specified three engines and added features for passenger comfort, such as an enclosed cabin. The first three Tri-Motors built seated the pilot in an open cockpit, as many pilots doubted a plane could be flown without direct "feel of the wind".

Ford Motor Company built 199 Tri-Motors from 1926 through 1933. EAA's model 4-AT-E was number 146 off Ford's innovative assembly line and first flew on August 21, 1929. It was sold to Pitcairn Aviation's passenger division, Eastern Air Transport, whose paint scheme is replicated on EAA's Tri-Motor. This is why our Ford resides in the Pitcairn hangar at Pioneer Airport. Eastern Air Transport later became Eastern Airlines.

In 1930, NC8407 was leased to Cubana Airlines, where it inaugurated air service between Havana and Santiago de Cuba. The airplane was later flown by the government of the Dominican Republic.

EAA's Ford Trimotor returned to the US in 1949 as a barnstormer. In 1950 it was moved from Miami (FL) to Phoenix (AZ) and refitted with more powerful engines for use as a crop duster. With two 450 HP engines and one 550 HP engine, it became the most powerful Model 4-AT ever flown. In 1955 it was moved to Idaho and fitted with two 275 gallon tanks and bomb doors for use as a borate bomber in aerial fire fighting. In 1958, it was further modified for use by smoke jumpers.

Disaster Strikes

After working for a variety of crop spraying businesses, EAA's Tri-Motor moved to Lawrence (KS) in 1964, where its new owner flew barnstorming tours. During this period it had a variety of roles, including serving as the primary setting for the Jerry Lewis comedy, "The Family Jewels." In 1973, the aircraft was still in use for air show rides, including the EAA's Fly-In at Burlington (WI). While at the 1973 EAA Fly-In, a severe thunderstorm ripped the plane from its tie-downs, lifted it 50 feet into the air and smashed it to the ground on its back. EAA subsequently purchased the wreckage for its Aviation Foundation.

After an arduous, twelve-year restoration process by EAA staff, volunteers and with assistance from Ford Tri-Motor operators nationwide, the old Tri-Motor once again took to the air. Its official debut was at the 1985 EAA convention in Oshkosh. It was displayed in the AirVenture Museum until 1991 when it returned to its former role of delighting passengers. Ford Tri-Motor NC8407 is the flagship of EAA's Pioneer Airport, a part of the AirVenture Museum experience.

Ford Trimotor 4-AT-E Specifications
  • Length 49 ft. 10 in.
  • Height 12 ft. 8 in.
  • Wingspan 74 ft.
  • Total Wing Area 785 sq. ft.
  • Gross Weight 10,130 lbs.
  • Empty Weight 8,013 lbs.
  • Engines (three) Pratt & Whitney R985
  • Fuel Capacity 234 gal.
  • Fuel Consumption 45 gal./hr
  • Oil Capacity 24 gal.
  • Stall Speed 64 mph
  • Normal Cruise 90 mph
  • Range 500 miles
  • Price At Factory $42,000.
FMI: www.eaa.org

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