Vintage aircraft offered rides and a glimpse of the past
by Kyle Valentini
Between 1926 and 1933 the Ford Motor Company built 199 Tri-Motor aircraft. Nicknamed the Tin Goose, the all-metal plane revolutionized the passenger aircraft and changed the way Americans traveled.
Model 4-AT-E was the 146th plane off the Ford assembly line and cost $54,000 to build. She was sold to Eastern Air Transport where she took her first flight August 21, 1929. Throughout the years she was leased to Cuban Airlines, used in the Dominican Republic as the official presidential transport and went on to become a crop dusting plane. She also served as a borate bomber in aerial firefighting and was later modified to be used by smoke jumpers. She was immortalized in the 1964 Jerry Lewis comedy “The Family Jewels” before becoming a novelty at air shows.
In 1973 she was destroyed during a severe thunderstorm at Burlington, Wis. and her wreckage was purchased by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) who restored her over the course of 12 years at a cost of one million dollars.
On August 30 the Tin Goose was at Harry Clever Field at the EAA Chapter 1077 Aviation Center at New Philadelphia and for a fee passengers could take to the skies much as they would have in 1929 when flying was new to the average person. The 15-minute flights were piloted by EAA’s Ashley Messenger of Alexandria, Ky.
At 10,700 pounds, the aircraft can reach a maximum speed of 130 miles per hour and typically cruises at just under 90. Flying at a low altitude of about 1,000 feet, passengers were subjected to a noisy cabin but could easily recognize the Tuscarawas County landscape that looks quite different when seen from above.
Uhrichsville resident Andrea Fanti was examining the aircraft before the first flight of the afternoon. “I don’t fly but my husband, Paul, is an airplane enthusiast. We came out today so he could take a ride,” said Fanti. “It is a beautiful plane and I am enjoying it from the ground.”
Prior to the flights Messenger briefed passengers on safety basics and outlined the history of the plane. “A cross-country flight would take two days and cost a passenger $1,400,” said Messenger. “That was out of reach for most Americans and that is one of the reasons it wasn’t lucrative for the airline.”
Comfortable leather seats and large windows allow passengers to closely see two of the aircraft’s three 300-horsepower Wright J-6-9 Whirlwind radial piston engines. A third engine is in the nose of the plane.
Of the 24 Ford 4-AT-E Tri-Motor models built, only two are still flown today.