My wife and I were offered a new and exciting experience – flying on a Ford Tri-Motor airliner.  Naturally, we jumped at the opportunity. It was one of the features during the US Sport Aviation Expo at Sebring Regional Airport.

Dressing for the Occasion

  We decided to dress for the trip. Just as when commercial air travel was in its infancy, we decided to dress retro. My wife wore a two-piece cranberry and black woven suit, She accessorized it with oxford lace up high heel shoes. And topped it with a broad-brimmed hat trimmed with veil and gold trim band and bow.
   I wore a sport coat, vest, dress shoes and Walker hat. We looked quite like passengers out of a time warp. We created no small stir walking down the broad expanse of the tarmac toward the plane.

The Plane

  The Tri-Motor we flew was built in 1928.  Nicknamed “The Tin Goose,” only 199 of the metal aircraft were made during its years of manufacture.
  Over its history, The Tin Goose made its way from the United State to South America then back again. While out of the country, it apparently had been stripped of its corrugated metal sides and replaced with smooth metal. At that time the aircraft may have been used for cargo transport, as the seats of the craft were easily removable.
  However, by the time it arrived at the Sebring for exhibition at the Aviation Expo, this particular Ford Tri-Motor had been re-furbished. We saw the glory that it was when it first rolled off the assembly line.
     The plane’s exterior was fascinating for us. It had “City of Wichita” emblazoned on one side of the cockpit and “City of Port Clinton” on the other, “Ford Tri-Motor” was painted on the tail. That was done in the old Ford Motor Company Script.
   Inside, ornate, wood paneling dominated the cabin. It had small reading lights above each seat. There were no overhead luggage compartments.   We even found a lavatory in the back of the plane. The commode was separated from the door by a canvas curtain.
   The passenger seats were close together. We didn’t have much leg room – by today’s standards. The aisle between was also tight and difficult to navigate. It was easy to see that people in the 1930s were much smaller.

Pre-Flight Instruction

   Sadly, a stewardess did not entertain us with our pre-flight instructions aboard the plane. Instead, we sat outside in folding chairs, There, a pilot in training dispensed all the needed safety information. He told us that in case of emergency, there were three separate doors that could be used for exits, flotation devices were located under each seat and we were to remain seated and buckled-up the entire ride.
   So we did.

   The plane’s owners encouraged us to sit in the front two seats. They called it “first class.”   Dutifully we parked ourselves right behind the cockpit.
   It was a thrill when everybody was buckled in. It was then those three mighty Pratt & Whitney engines fired up in turn, ready to carry its cargo of ten into the wild blue yonder.

Flying the Ford Tri-Motor

  One really did get the feel of a Greyhound bus as the Tri-Motor lumbered out onto the runway for takeoff.  The engines then began to roar as we headed down the concrete expanse and lifted gently into the sky.
  The Tri-Motor was not the most sophisticated aircraft ever built. The steering cables were fully exposed and vibrated as we flew over acres of orange groves, pastureland and lakes.
  Sitting where we were, it was easy to see the pilot and co-pilot working the controls. It seemed they were constantly sawing the varnished wooden steering wheels. They continualy worked the flaps using foot pedals and hand levers. We watched them always adjusting things to keep the flight smooth and level.
  Our tour took us east over Sebring.  We looked down on the Historic Circle, circumnavigated Lake Jackson and took a ride out over scenic Lorida. Then headed back to the airport. In all, it took about 20 minutes – although it seemed much less.
  We learned several valuable lessons flying the Ford Tri-Motor. Our main proviso is that we would not sit so close to the engines next time, as the insulation on the plane did not stop much of the engine noise. That being said, it was well worth the price and we would recommend such a trip should one come to your neighborhood.
  It was so much fun, we still use the photo in our About Us page.