By Stephen Wagner
Another exciting family activity is at the Lee’s Summit Airport, the 1929 Ford Tri-Motor. This look back at the dawn of commercial aviation in this country is truly a marvel to witness and can be appreciated by young and old alike.
The "Ford", as it is fondly referred to by aficionados, was the first all metal multi engine airliner. It was built in Dearborn Michigan in facilities that are still used by Ford to this day. There were 199 of these aircraft manufactured at a "out the door price" of $55,000.
It is not only a pioneer of aviation, but it ushered in many associated travel businesses that we all use. The first hotel designed for air travelers, The Dearborn Inn, and the first designs for air terminals that allowed regularly scheduled airlines to operate and grow, and paved runways were outgrowths of this aircraft.
There are 17 volunteer pilots that fly the Ford around the country for the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association.) This aircraft was an original craft used in Eastern Airlines, one of the first domestic air carriers. On its retirement from Eastern, it was shipped to Cuba and helped start Cubana Airlines, still the national airline of Cuba. It was then transferred to the Dominican Republic where it became their equivalent of "air force one."
Now on its fourth retirement, it was crated and shipped back to the states where it saw service as a "fire bomber" and transport for the famed "smoke jumpers" of the west. It was eventually acquired by the EAA and painstakingly restored to its current, lovingly maintained condition.
The pilot, John Maxwell gave a wonderful talk on the airplane, how it works and its history. He looks the part of steady, level headed aircraft Captain. The sight of the Captain flying the aircraft with his elbow resting on the window ledge immediately draws you back in time. The controls are to the point and straightforward. The Ford files only in clear weather.
The flight was smooth and safe and could be enjoyed by any age. It flies approximately 1,000 feet above the ground and travels about 90 knots or just over 100 miles per hour. It holds approximately three hours of fuel. So there were plenty of stops, a good thing as there is no lavatory onboard. When originally put in service, the planes would fly during daylight. In the evening passengers would transfer to an overnight railroad sleeper car returning to another plane further along the line in the morning.
In the early 30’s, it could take a month to travel across the continent by car mostly on dirt or gravel roads. This was true luxury. The overnight railroad service dovetailed nicely as railroad tracks were often used for navigation.
The weather for this weekend looks great for flying. Come out on Saturday morning and enjoy the pancake breakfast put on by the Lee’s Summit EAA Chapter 91, stationed at the airport. It begins at 8:30 and runs until 12:00. Proceeds will benefit the "Young Eagles" program which provides free airplane rides to kids 8 to 17 to encourage kids to consider careers in aviation. Young Eagles flights are scheduled for Saturday, also from 8:30 to 12:00.
Flights on the Ford are priced at $75 for adults, $50 for ages 2 to 17, and under two are free. If the co-pilot seat is open, you can fly upfront for $125.
Come "Fly the Ford!"