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Vruuuummmmm. There goes the Ford again!

June 4, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
I’m hearing the sound of three rumbling radial engines as I type this today. No, I’m not aboard the Tri-Motor now, but it’s made about its third pass over downtown Steubenville today, and it’s really, really cool.

I flew aboard on Monday, its first passenger flight out of the Jefferson County Airpark, with Capt. Cody Welch in the left seat and Bill Thacker in the right seat. It’s always a good thing to have a couple of experienced airline pilots up in the nose of the plane. Welch is retired after a career with Northwest and Thacker is fitting in his Tri-Motor trips between duties for United Airlines. It’s also kind of cool that your pilots are wearing shorts and Hawaiian shirts and ballcaps.

I want to go visit Jimmy Buffet in this thing! What an experience it was, climbing up a little step and going back 84 years. Lindbergh had made it to Paris just two years before this product of Henry Ford’s factories lofted its way into the skies.

I’ve been fortunate to fly three kinds of planes with round engines: A Douglas DC 3 (C-4 Dakota), a B-17 and two Tri-Motors (of the four flying, I’ve been aboard half the fleet!). There is something exciting, beckoning the mind to adventure, in that deep bass drum sound.

It’s easy to forget the engines are likely to be burning or puking out a lot of oil during and after the flight. As long as they’re making that sound, it’s all good.

The aisle of the Ford wouldn’t fit the average U.S. airline passenger anymore. People who complain about having to pay extra for luggage or a second seat for their XXL butts would have had a problem in the 1920s and 1930s if they were fortunate enough to go flying. I dare say 100 lbs ago, I’d not have fit up the aisle or into the seats. The seats are narrow, arranged in single rows on each side of the tiny aisle.

Everybody gets a big picture window. For ventilation, there’s a rotating plastic vent, smack dab in the middle of each window. You can pull it shut or open it up and aim it forward for fresh air, or turn it facing the back to pull air out...perfect if you smoked aboard, but you cannot, and not just because this is a domestic airliner.

It is a museum piece. It neither needs nor wants nor could stand up to cigarette smoke, ashes, the smell, burns in the seat. Did I mention it’s a kind of flammable environment in a plane made of thin corrugated steel with wooden window frames and gasoline in the wing tanks right above your windows and flowing by gravity into the engines, including one up in front of the cockpit. So put it out, butt-head, and enjoy flight as it was.

The fat wings of the Tri-Motor help it stay aloft even in bumpy air without transmitting that “struck a big pothole” feeling one gets in the average 737 about 100 times during any flight. The Tri-Motor mushes along, pushing the air into submission, not allowing it’s flight to be disturbed. Indeed, it’s nickname, “The Tin Goose” is apt, for she flies like a majestic goose, slowly arching her way across the sky.

Those 400-plus-horsepower Pratt and Whitney radials thrumming along the whole time is a pleasant effect that brings to mind the romance of flight, visions of starch-collared captains in natty uniforms, people in their Sunday finest in the seats. But when you get out, your ears will be ringing a little. Again, not unpleasant, but for the rest of the day on Tuesday I was speaking really softly because I was hearing “vrrruuuummmm-ummmmm-ummmmmmmmmm” in my ears. Cool. I'm glad it's gone by four times now as I wrap this up. It means you're visiting the airport, and you're sharing the experience I had.

And that's cool, too.

 
 

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