Thomasville Times Enterprise

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April 22, 2014

Experiencing an old way of travel

THOMASVILLE — Thomasville residents are being given the opportunity to experience an old way of traveling in an era of modern technology.

On Monday afternoon, I was part of the media team that had the opportunity to fly in the 1929 Ford Tri-Motor Plane or the “Tin Goose” as it was called when built by the Ford Motor Co. in the late 1920s.

After flying in the aluminum plane, I understand why it was called the “Tin Goose.” It reminded me of being in a tin can soaring in the sky with the birds.

I discovered the plane had an amazing history. Not only was the aircraft the first of its kind in 1920s luxury aviation, but it also took on many different services during its 80-plus years in the air.

This particular plane came off the assembly line in August 1929. It served for Pitcairn Aviation, the forerunner of Eastern Airlines and then became an airliner for Cuba. Its other services included working as a crop duster, egg carrier and aerial fire -fighting aircraft. In the 1960s and 1970s, it became a barn-storming aircraft, which offered flights for passengers.

After the plane was damaged in 1973 thunderstorm, it took 12 years for the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) staff and volunteers to return the aircraft to life. In 1985, it began carrying passengers again and has not stopped since.

The airplane also has starred in movies with popular stars. In 1965, Jerry Lewis sat in the plane for the movie “The Family Jewels.” Several decades later in 2009, Johnny Depp co-starred with the Ford plane in “Public Enemies.”

Since I’m a huge history buff and reader, it was exciting to experience the plane ride. It was almost like going back in time and experiencing air-borne travel as people in the 1920s did.

The pilot, Cody Welch of Michigan, who has been a pilot for 47 years, flew the media crew over downtown Thomasville, traveling 1,000 feet above Thomasville at 85 miles per hour. It was easy to pick out all the major landmarks of downtown, especially the courthouse.

Experiencing downtown Thomasville from a bird’s-eye view, in my opinion, is the best way to get a new perspective of Thomasville. The countryside leading up to the carefully planned downtown area is breathtaking.

As I was talking with Welch prior to the flight, I asked him how he got involved with the aircraft.

He said, “I’ve been flying this plane for over 22 years now. A representative from the owner approached me about flying it. It’s an exciting aircraft to fly because it was the nation’s first mass-produced airliner. I think we take it for granted. I’m out to share history of aviation for the folks that come out and want to take a ride.”

Welch’s flight to Thomasville began when he contacted Mike Woodham, Thomasville Regional Airport manager and friend, about bringing the plane to the area.

Woodham said, “I’ve known Welch for years. We got started flying around the same time.”

Woodham thinks the Ford Tri-Motor Airplane is a great opportunity to share with the community because of its history.

He said, “It’s so rare for one of these planes to come to this area. There are only three left in the world that are operational. Currently, there are three more under restoration that will hopefully fly again.”

One of the most historical influences the plane has to Woodham is that the founder of Eastern Airplanes, Eddie Rickenbacker, flew in the plane. He was also a leading fighter ace in World War I.

Woodham is excited the plane is at Thomasville Regional Airport. He wants to show off the airport — and show the community the oldest airplane certified to give rides. The Ford Tri-Motor Airplane is the oldest plane to give tours at the Thomasville Regional Airport.

The airport manager also explained technical aspects of the plane. He said, “The plane has three engines and doesn’t use as much fuel as the B-17 that was previously here. It uses about 75 gallons per hour and cruises at 95 miles per hour.”

The inside of the plane was nothing like modern-day airliners. There were only nine seats in the plane. Most everything inside of the plane was original, with the exception of the seats, which were only slightly different. Stronger seats were placed in the plane for safety of passengers. The original seats were hand-woven tan wicker, but they are no longer made.

Also, the floor was changed color. It is now black, but it was once green to match the interior. By the windows were small lights that could be switched on by the passengers.

By today’s standards, the plane is highly outdated and not economical — but for the day, it was just the beginning of things to come.

Public flights will be on Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. until dusk (7 p.m.). Woodham encourages the public to come out and see the plane. Flights are $75 per person. For more information, visit www.flytheford.org.

Reporter Susanne Reynolds can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1826.

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