The Florida Times-Union
March 16, 2012
It looks like a corrugated tin shed with wings as it lumbers off the runway at Herlong Recreational Airport, its 9-cylinder engines roaring as the silver and blue airplane claws skyward at a stately 80 mph.
The Experimental Aircraft Association's 1929 Ford Tri-Motor is one of 199 made by the same folks who built the Model T and Taurus — and basically ushered in modern airline travel.
Those interested can get a hint of what it was like to fly commercial 70 years ago, as the association offers rides in what was once nicknamed the Tin Goose. With five big windows per corrugated side showing Jacksonville from 2,000 feet, it's a trip back in time, said pilot Colin Soucy. His day job is commercial airliner pilot.
"It allows people to enjoy and be exposed to the olden days of aviation," Soucy said. "This was the way aviation was in the '20s and '30s. ..." He said that in museums there are eight or nine of these planes that can fly, "but people don't get to touch them. People look at them across a fence."
Flying in the 1920s was often in an open cockpit in a fabric-skinned biplane, so being able to ride inside an aluminum skin in relative comfort was cutting edge, said Bob Casey, curator at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.
"It was an all-metal airplane, and this in a period when airplanes were often made of steel tubing with fabric stretched over it," Casey said.
Tri-Motors were built by automobile magnate Henry Ford in a factory at his Dearborn airport between 1926 and 1933. The $42,000 aircraft's enclosed cabin had nine padded seats under varnished wood panels with Art Deco accents, reading lamps and a ventilation system.
The pilots are in a cockpit at the leading edge of a 74-foot-wide wing, visible by passengers since there is no cockpit door.
The association's Tri-Motor was used by Eastern Air Transport, Cubana Airlines in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. It flew in barnstorming air shows, crop dusted and fought forest fires. A storm damaged it in 1973, and the association bought and restored it. Now it flies air shows and events like this weekend's, helping celebrate Herlong's 10th anniversary under Jacksonville Aviation Authority management.
In a world of sleek jet airliners, the Tri-Motor is flying slower than some cars it went over Thursday above Interstate 10. Soucy joked that it's like flying a dump truck but still fun.
"It is the essence of aviation, and we are trying to build more support for the chapter and grow general aviation in the Jacksonville area," said co-pilot Elvis Golden, vice president of the association's Jacksonville chapter.
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