American aviation could do worse than go back into production on the “Tin Goose.”
A flight Thursday in the 1929 Ford Tri-Motor, so nicknamed because of its corrugated all-metal cover, was smooth and comfortable even in the stiff Kansas winds.
The flight, provided by the Experimental Aircraft Association’s local Chapter 88, left Jabara Airport about 2 p.m. and landed 20 minutes later to the cheers of the nine passengers who filled the cabin. No luggage was missing.
“Not a bad ol’ airplane, huh?” said the pilot, Cody Welch. Nobody disagreed.
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The EAA chapter is offering rides on the tri-motor to the public Friday at Jabara and Saturday and Sunday at the Newton Airport as part of its 50-year anniversary celebration.
For passengers, the flight it is a trip back in time, starting from the moment they see the plane perched with stately pride on the runway, its nose elevated.
This is a plane that flew the high and mighty of the 1920s. It was the first all-metal, multi-engine passenger airliner. It led to the construction of the first airline terminal, the first hotel for air travelers, and the first paved runways.
Automobile titan Henry Ford built 199 of them from 1926 to 1933 in Michigan. The cost to purchase one was $55,000.
People dressed up to fly in them, and they flew in relative comfort.
The plane’s enclosed cabin had nine padded seats, and plenty of leg room. Every seat was a window seat. The seats didn’t recline, so the passenger in front of you couldn’t push a button and fall back into your lap as soon as you reached cruising altitude.
Cruising altitude on Thursday’s flight was 1,000 to 1,200 feet. As the plane bobbed along over northeast Wichita, the view from the spacious windows was excellent. You were close enough to the ground that if you saw things below that looked like ants, they probably were ants. Cars on K-96 and Rock Road appeared to be going faster than the airplane.
The Tin Goose traveled at about 85 mph. In the 1920s, a coast-to-coast trip took 2 1/2 days with multiple stops, Welch said.
Sitting in the cabin was like sitting in a time capsule. It was lined with varnished wood panels that had Art Deco accents and reading lamps. Overhead netting served as carry-on storage.
The airplane has a storied history. It flew as a passenger airliner for Eastern Airways, the forerunner of Eastern Airlines, in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In the decades to come, it flew in Cuba for a Cuban airline, transported smoke jumpers in Idaho and Montana, dumped chemicals on forest fires, flew barnstorming tours, and even appeared in the 1960s Jerry Lewis comedy “The Family Jewels,” as well as the 2009 Johnny Depp movie “Public Enemies.”
At a tour stop at Burlington, Wis., in 1973, a thunderstorm lifted the Tin Goose 30 feet in the air and dropped it to the ground.
It took 12 years for EAA staff to restore it.
Welch has been flying the Tin Goose for 21 years. Before Thursday’s flight, he gave his nine passengers a safety briefing.
The one passenger door, he explained, had a handle with a latch like your back door.
“I’d prefer you be on the ground when you use it,” he said.
There was an escape hatch in the roof, in case the plane landed on its nose, he said.
There was one fire extinguisher and one first-aid kit aboard, he said.
And not to worry about the wind.
“On a windy day in Kansas, this airplane is in its element,” Welch said.
And it was. The plane wallowed from side to side occasionally, but only once did it hit a pocket that dropped it suddenly.
The flight also was surprisingly quiet. The engines were loudest when warming up and taking off. Once in the air, passengers could hear well enough to converse if they spoke up.
Welch, who pilots the plane as a volunteer, said he has flown 45,000 passengers in his career with the Tin Goose. He never tires of it.
“It’s like it started yesterday,” he said.
“It’s history,” Welch said. “You tend to remember every flight.”