Tri-Motor offers vintage flying experience

April 2, 2014

EAA offers flights in its Ford Tri-Motor for $75 for adults at Sun 'n Fun.

The Ford Tri-Motor passenger briefing covers the usual items: how to buckle your seatbelt, what to do in the event of a water landing, locations of the emergency exits. But there were a few twists—like the fact that one emergency exit is through the roof, or that you’ll need to climb uphill through the aisle to get to your seat.

The Experimental Aircraft Association’s Ford Tri-Motor gives passengers a taste of early airline travel, complete with rumbling radial engines and corrugated aluminum wings. EAA is selling rides in the vintage airliner at the 2014 Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In and Expo and offered media a flight over the grounds April 1.

A flight over the Sun 'n Fun grounds at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland, Fla., can broaden passengers’ understanding of what Sun 'n Fun has to offer while taking them back in time. Passing over the airport three times on a short flight, the Tri-Motor showed the offerings of Sun 'n Fun's extensive grounds: campgrounds, ultralights, warbirds, gyrocopters, and a DC-3 in addition to the tents, hangars, and exhibits at the center of the show. But the special treat of the Tri-Motor is in the rumble of the engines and the vintage experience.

The Experimental Aircraft Association's Ford Tri-Motor offers an unmatched view of the Sun 'n Fun grounds.

In the cockpit, the round control wheel sports the distinctive Ford logo. The interior is vintage green painted metal with wood paneling. EAA restored the 1929 airplane, which had a diverse career as an airliner, crop duster, aerial fire fighter, and more, after a severe thunderstorm critically damaged it, and the association now tours the country selling rides in the iconic “Tin Goose.”

Volunteer pilot Colin Soucy explained some of the distinctive handling characteristics. For one, pilots must compensate for significant adverse yaw: “I tell people, lead the turn with rudder and then add some aileron,” he explained.

Pilots also should prepare for the airplane to be very, very heavy on the controls.

EAA restored the Tri-Motor, which retains a vintage look.

“It flies like a truck,” he said. “But not a pickup truck, a dump truck.” Still, he said, the airplane is honest. It always flies the same—no surprises.

With only 199 Ford Tri-Motors ever built, pilots aren’t likely to find many opportunities to sit in the left seat as pilot in command. But for $75 at Sun 'n Fun, they can get a taste of an era with a window seat in the first all-metal, multiengine commercial airliner.

Sarah Deener

Sarah Deener | Editor – Web, AOPA

AOPA Editor – Web Sarah Deener has worked for AOPA since 2009 and has been a private pilot since 2011.