The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) is offering flights on the first mass-produced aircraft at the Monroe County Airport this weekend.
Henry Ford developed the Ford Tri-Motor airplane because he saw potential for mass air transit. There were concerns about engine reliability, so he decided the plane should have three. Ford only built 199 Tri-Motors during the 1920s and 1930s, so they’re relatively rare.
“There’s only a couple of them flying,” says EAA Volunteer Pilot Tom Leahy. “This is the airplane that brought people into the airline age as we know it. Before this there wasn’t really any airline services.”
The airplane taking flight in Monroe County had a variety of jobs over the decades. It flew people throughout Cuba, appeared in movies and helped with aerial firefighting. Not much of the plane is original anymore because it was nearly destroyed when it flipped over and crashed during a storm in the ’70s.
The EAA takes it on tour throughout the country to give everyday people the opportunity to fly in the rare plane. There’s a single row of seats lining each side of the Tri-Motor, so everyone has a window to look out. And, for some people, it isn’t their first ride.
“Here in Indiana the most unique thing I’ve found is up around the lake shore there was a community of people that operated as, during WWII and that era, Korean War era, as smoke jumpers,” Leahy says. “And, they came out to fly the airplane because they never landed in one. They only took off and jumped out. So, for three days we had people who just wanted to see what it was like to make a landing.”
The tour is made possible by people like Leahy who volunteer their time to the EAA. He’s a retired airline pilot and says he loves seeing people’s reactions to their first flight in the Tri-Motor.
“I like to fly this airplane and meet people,” Leahy says. “And, it really keeps your skills updated. It really does make you work hard and think well ahead of the airplane to get a nice flight out of it. While it’s easy to fly it’s very physical, so if you can think a little bit ahead of it you can be a master of the airplane.”
The Tri-Motor’s visit is helping kickoff the Monroe County Airport’s 75th Anniversary celebration.
Flights cost $75 for adults and $50 for children. They’re available through Sunday. While online reservations are closed, walk-up flights are available.