It was 83 years ago, in 1929, that a Ford Tri-Motor first paid a visit to Putnam County. The upcoming visit will mark the first time that a Ford Tri-Motor has landed in the county since the late 1930s.
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 Co. built 199 Tri-Motors from 1926 through 1933. EAA's model 4-AT-E was No. 146 off Ford's innovative assembly line and first flew on Aug. 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 the EAA's Ford resides in the Pitcairn hangar at Pioneer Airport. Eastern Air Transport later became Eastern Airlines.
In 1930, NC8407 was leased to Cabaņa Airlines, where it inaugurated air service between Havana and Santiago de Cuba. It was later flown under the use of the government of the Dominican Republic.
EAA's Ford Tri-Motor returned to the U.S. in 1949 for barnstorming use. In 1950 it was moved from Miami to Phoenix and was 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. Then in 1958, smoke jumpers were used to modify the craft for further use.
After working for a variety of crop spraying businesses, this Tri-Motor moved to Lawrence, Kan., in 1964, where its new owner flew barnstorming tours. During this period it had a variety of roles, including being used as the primary setting for the Jerry Lewis comedy, "The Family Jewels."
In 1973, the aircraft was still being used for air show rides, including the EAA's Fly-In at Burlington, Wis. 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, 12-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.
"We are really excited to have been chosen to host such a significant part of aviation history," local EAA chapter president Duane Skoog said.
The Ford Tri-Motors birthed commercial aviation. The first scheduled passenger and cargo flights were in Tri-Motors. TWA, Eastern, Pan Am, Northwest and American all had the Ford Tri-Motor in the beginning.
"The Putnam County Airport is honored to have been chosen to host 'The First American Airliner,'" Skoog said.
The Ford Tri-Motor will be in residence at the Putnam County Airport, located at the end of Ballard Lane directly off State Road 240.
Flights on Thursday, Sept. 13 will begin at 2 p.m. and continue to 5 p.m. Flights on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 14-16 will begin at 9 a.m. and continue throughout the day until 5 p.m. All flights are dependent on the weather. If it is heavily overcast or raining the Tri-Motor will not fly.
Persons interested in scheduling a flight ahead of time can contact the EAA at flytheford.org or 877-952-5395. Prices are $80 for adults, $40 for students 6-17. Children under five fly free when flying on the same flight as their parent or legal guardian. If you would like to sit up front with the pilot, a seat in the co-pilot chair is $125.
Tickets may be purchased at the Putnam County Airport the day of your flight; however, tickets are on a first-come, first-served basis.