Early Days of Flight Come to Central Oregon During EAA’s 1928 Ford Tri-Motor Tour

(Liberty Ford Tri-Motor | Photo courtesy of Liberty Aviation Museum)

While many people may be taking Mom out to brunch or having backyard barbeques this Mother’s Day weekend, vintage airplane lovers can head to Bend’s airport to sample a unique part of our aviation history.

May 9 through 12 (Thursday through Sunday), the Bend Municipal Airport is home to an American treasure. The Ford Tri-Motor airplane, built in 1928, is one of the world’s first mass-produced airliners.

“It was the first airplane built to hold people and not mail,” explained Dale Anderson, the president of Bend’s Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 1345, the High Desert Flyers. “The original airlines, the first airlines, almost all of them started with this airplane.”

Henry Ford had brought mobility to millions of Americans in the early 1900’s with his Model T and Model A cars. But he recognized that airline travel was a growing market. So in the late 1920’s he started building these 50-feet-long, 74-feet wide planes with an engine on each wing and in the center. The Ford Tri-Motor became known as the “Tin Goose.” Only 199 Ford Tri-Motors were produced, and only eight remain air-worthy today.

The vintage airplane visiting Bend is the Ford Tri-Motor 5-AT-B, serial No. 8. It flew its first flight on December 1, 1928. It was sold to Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT, the logo that graces the aircraft’s fuselage today) in January 1929, when it inaugurated westbound transcontinental commercial air service.

“A transcontinental trip in the Tri-Motor took 48 hours, a vast improvement in time over other travel in that era,” Anderson said. “The trip entailed several stops for fuel, and at night, the passengers were transferred to train sleeper cars. They would re-board the Tri-Motor each morning.”

Owned now by the Liberty Air Museum, the Tin Goose once had its home in Oregon at the Evergreen Museum. In its history, besides being the first passenger aircraft, the Ford Tri-Motor flew the first smoke-jumpers, did barn-storming tours in places like the Grand Canyon, served in the war, and was used as a crop-duster. The Tin Goose still has the decorative woodwork from its early days. Inside it’s loud but comfortable, and you’re about two-feet from the pilot in an airliner that was one of the first to have an enclosed cockpit. You’ll enjoy watching the pilot fly the plane with the iconic steering wheel controls, not seen in any other planes. Even though it holds only nine passengers, there were flight attendants. The flight attendant would pass out a box lunch and cotton for you to stick in your ears because of the loud engines. And the plane had something most houses in 1929 didn’t. An indoor toilet.

Thursday through Sunday you can take a ride on this piece of history and enjoy a trip back in time.

“This airplane was pivotal in airline history,” Anderson explained. “And to be able to fly one is like living the dream.”

The High Desert Flyers, a chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, is hosting the event at the Bend Municipal Airport. Each day of the Ford Tri-Motor Tour features a different theme and many other aviation activities. Thursday is local media and celebrity day, Friday is innovation in aviation day, Saturday is a celebration of commercial and civil aviation. And Sunday, Mother’s Day, is women in aviation day. On Sunday, the first 50 moms to fly in the Ford Tri-Motor receive a free rose. Each day is jam packed with VIP speakers, exhibits, car, motorcycle, fire truck, and airplane displays, barbeque lunch, pancake breakfast, a cocktail hour, a fly-market aviation flea market, and more. Check the High Desert Flyer’s website for a detailed schedule: \1345.eaachapter.org.

To ride in the Ford Tri-Motor, public flight hours are from 2pm to 5pm on Thursday, then 9am to 5pm Friday through Sunday. You can purchase tickets in advance at FlyTheFord.org. Ticket prices are $72 in advance for adults and $52 for children (17 & under). Walk-up tickets are $77 for adults. More information is available at flytheford.org

EAA embodies the spirit of aviation through the world’s most engaged community of aviation enthusiasts. EAA’s 170,000 members and 1,000 local chapters enjoy the fun and camaraderie of sharing their passion for flying, building and restoring recreational aircraft. For more information on EAA and its programs, call 800-JOIN-EAA (800-564-6322) or go to eaa.org.

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