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Hoping to fly the Tri-Motor time machine again

April 24, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
I’ve been privileged to stand on or ride in three vehicles that changed history, all thanks to working at a small-town newspaper.

I’ve ridden in a Model T on a very cold day. I was able to stand on the deck of a replica of one of Christopher Columbus’ vessels when a living history tour made a stop in Steubenville a couple years ago. And I’ve flown in a Ford Tri-Motor, one of the earliest American commercial airliners. I’ve also flown in a DC-3, which was the first really successful American commercial airliner, but that’s not the tale today.

A Tri-Motor is coming to Wintersville in June from the Kalamazoo Air Zoo, and I hope I’ll be aboard.

I was privileged enough to fly in the Experimental Aircraft Association’s restored Tri-Motor in 2007 when it stopped in New Philadelphia.

It was really hot on the ground and really comfortable in the air as time wound its way back to the 1930s.

Henry Ford being Henry Ford figured he could do for the skies what his Model T did for ground transportation. No it wouldn’t be the first or the biggest or the fastest, but it would be successful, simple, easy to maintain and reliable. That was the gift the Model T gave the motoring public.

The Tri-Motor got things going but was eclipsed by the more comfortable and larger Douglas DC-3 by the mid-1930s. Not quite a Model-T long-lived home-run, but the planes kept on flying in various forms of service right on into the 1980s. Now, they're museum pieces of the air.

Ford specified an enclosed cabin, which wasn’t always the case in those days. There were some airliners that saw everyone out in the open breeze, and others that enclosed the passengers but put the poor pilots out in the open, cold, and fatiguing air. But pilots wanted it that way. The first three Tri-Motors had pilots in an open-air cockpit. Pilots apparently thought they couldn’t fly without feeling the breeze.

The Tri-Motor hardly looks like a slick flying machine. It’s got three big radial engines hanging out in the breeze -- two under the wings and one in the nose. Its control cables are right out there in the breeze, too. Its covered in corrugated tin. To the uninitiated, it might look like a big toolshed or a small warehouse given wings and told to fly away.

Ford made the Tri-Motor from 1925 to 1933. A total of 199 were built, according to information on the Experimental Aircraft Association’s website,

Stop back soon to learn more, yinze hear?


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