It is a distinctive sound. Three radial engines chugging away against the sky. At first glance up, the plane does not look too much different from some modern planes in size or speed. Then you see the third propeller and think, three engines?
Yes. Three. On an airframe which rolled off the Dearborn, MI Ford Motor Company line in 1929. Completely restored, with modern engines (could not get parts for originals) by the Experimental Aircraft Association(EAA).
This particular plane has a very interesting history, “We have no idea how many hours are on it. We have no records prior to 1955 when the U.S. Forest Service began using it for various uses, from dropping fire-fighting chemicals to hauling people and gear around to fire sites. Before helicopters, before the DC-3, the Ford Tri Motor was the original all-weather short take off and landing aircraft.”
As pilotColin Soucy says, “It’s an honest aircraft. It will do what you want it to. No tricks.” With a regular job as a commercial pilot flying Airbus planes, he marvels at the “original ‘fly by wire,’ real wire, controls on the Ford.”
Moving forward in time, the plane was the presidential transport for the Dominican Republic, and for many years it was the flagship of the Cuban internal air service. It also was a crop duster in Florida and Kansas, and it was the star of two movies — one, in 1965 The Family Jewels, starring Jerry Lewis, and again in 2009’s Public Enemies, starring Johhny Depp.
Scott Moser, Beth Gaffney, Mike Gaffney, Gary Garner, and Richard Adelmann, members of the local EAA chapter 1016 and volunteering their time to make the event work, pose in front of the Ford Tri Motor at the Asheville Regional Airport.
Under the guidance and patience of the EAA, the aircraft underwent a 12-year restoration from the bolts up. The result is a grand old lady of the air, once again the flagship of EAA’s Pioneer Airport, and again the sound of the three radial engines thumps through the skies.
Oh, the answer to the question above is: All are about the same age, with city hall being completed in 1928, the airplane in the 1929 model year (which means it was built in the summer and fall of 1928); and the tree, according to the homeowner, dates from when the house was built in, 1928-1930. So, it’s a tie — three octogenarians in one picture.
Flights are available through Sunday evening June 10, at the north end of the airport, just follow the signs “to Ride the Ford.” $80 gets you a ride you will not soon forget, with great views of downtown, the Biltmore Home, Mount Pisgah and more.