Thomasville Times Enterprise

April 15, 2014

Flying first class

The height of flying luxury 85 years ago


CAIRO — Flying the airlines has not always meant connecting the entire world in a single day. Nor did it mean flight delays, security lines or baggage carousels. At one time, flying to a destination was an adventure and a whole new perspective on travel.

That sensation is coming back as a rare 1929 Ford Tri-Motor airliner, owned and operated by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) in Oshkosh, Wis., makes a stop in Thomasville as part of a nationwide tour.

The aircraft will arrive at Thomasville Regional Airport late afternoon on Sunday, April 20.

The plane will be available for viewing and flights on:

∞ Μονδαψ, April 21, from 9 a.m. to dusk

∞ Tuesday, April 22, from 9 a.m. to dusk

∞ Wednesday, April 23, from 9 a.m. to dusk

Flights cost $75 per person.

The Ford Tri-Motor will depart the airport midmorning on Thursday, April 24.

Ford Motor Co. founder Henry Ford, who had changed America through his automobiles, also had a vision for moving people through flight. He saw a time when people would travel across America in airplanes at speed surpassing the fastest railroad.

“Preposterous!” some said. After all, Charles Lindbergh had only two years before had survived a harrowing 33-hour solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean and became a worldwide celebrity for doing it.

The idea of the average person being able to fly to a distant destination on a scheduled flight was just a dream.

Ford was driven to prove his concept. Although fewer than 200 of the Ford Tri-Motors were built during a seven-year period before it was overtaken by newer technology, it showed passenger flights were possible on a grander scale than ever imagined.

“What Henry Ford did was bring the possibility of powered flight to the public, beyond the barnstorming and pioneer era that defined aviation to that point,” said Sean Elliott, an EAA vice president and experienced Tri-Motor pilot. “His position as an influential industrial leader brought credibility to the nation of passenger air service.”

The Tri-Motor had only 10 straight-back seats. Passengers had a straight-in view of the cockpit. The roar of the three engines was loud, but reassuring. Three engines, in Ford’s view, were safer than one for long-haul flights.

The Ford Tri-Motor appearing locally was No. 146 of the aircraft’s run, coming off the line in August 1929. It served for Pitcairn Aviation, a forerunner of Eastern Airlines, for a brief period, then had its own adventure flying as an airliner in Cuba, working as a crop duster and aerial fire-fighting aircraft. It later became a barnstorming aircraft, offering flights for passengers throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.

After the airplane was severely damaged in a 1973 thunderstorm, EAA founder Paul Poberezny bought the salvage and worked with the EAA staff and volunteers for 12 years to bring the airplane back to life. It made its return to the air in 1985, and has been carrying passengers since.

The aircraft has starred in two major motion pictures: “The Family Jewels” starting Jerry Lewis in 1965, and “Public Enemies” starring Johnny Depp in 2009.

Primarily, however, EAA’s Ford Tri-Motor spends it ninth decade of existence much as it started life — carrying passengers on an aerial adventure unlike anything else available today.

Today, instead of showing the promise of what lies ahead in aviation, it harkens back to a pioneering era in flight.

More information is available at