September 1, 2011
By Sarah Brown
EAA's 1929 Ford Tri-Motor 4-AT-E has had careers as a barnstormer, aerial applicator, and fire fighter. At next year's EAA AirVenture, it will take the winning bidder in the AOPA Foundation's A Night for Flight auction—and eight friends—for the ride of a life.
The Tri-Motor, commonly known as the “Tin Goose,” was Ford's flying counterpart to the Model T “Tin Lizzie.” It's a far cry from today's jetliners, but the world's first mass-produced airliner brought such creature comforts to air travel as the enclosed cabin. And every seat has a window—a plus for the lucky eight friends who will join the winning bidder at Oshkosh, Wis. Following the flight, the winner can join EAA President Rod Hightower and AOPA President Craig Fuller for lunch.
So what's it like to climb into the “Tin Goose”? Barry Schiff flew a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor 5-AT-C for AOPA Pilot.
“Flying a Ford Tri-Motor is like roaring through the pages of aviation history,” Schiff wrote. “It is entering a time warp and returning to a simpler yet more challenging era. Unlike many modern aircraft, vintage machines have unique personalities reflective of a bygone era.”
EAA's Tri-Motor started out shuttling passengers for Eastern Air Transport and flew in Cuba and the Dominican Republic before heading back to the United States. Refitted with two 450-horsepower engines and one 550-hp engine, according to EAA, it roared over Arizona as an aerial applicator. Then it headed to Idaho and got two 275-gallon tanks and bomb doors to fight fires as a borate bomber, EAA said; a few years later, it was modified again for use by smoke jumpers. The aircraft was used for rides at airshows and fly-ins until 1973, when, “While at the 1973 EAA Fly-In, a severe thunderstorm ripped the plane from its tie-downs, lifted it 50 feet into the air and smashed it to the ground on its back. EAA subsequently purchased the wreckage for its Aviation Foundation,” EAA said.
A 12-year restoration by EAA staff brought the “Tin Goose” back to working order. Now flying with the Eastern Air Transport paint scheme, the aircraft gives airshow attendees a chance to ride in a piece of history.
Bidding for this year's A Night For Flight auction closes Sept. 22. Auction items range from iPads to once-in-a-lifetime experiences; the proceeds go to the AOPA Foundation to help keep pilots safe and safeguard the future of general aviation.
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