Flying the Ford Trimotor

  Mrs. Funmeister and I were offered a new and exciting experience – a ride on an original Ford Trimotor airliner – naturally, we jumped at the chance.

  We decided to go retro – just as in the times that commercial air travel was in its infancy, we decided wear vintage business dress. My wife wore a two-piece cranberry and black woven suit, with oxford lace up high heel shoes and a broad-brimmed hat trimmed with veil and gold trim band and bow.

  I wore a sport coat, vest, dress shoes and Walker hat.
  We looked quite like passengers out of a time warp and created no small stir as  we walked down the broad expanse of the tarmac toward the plane.
 The Trimotor we flew had been built in 1928. Nicknamed “The Tin Goose,” only 199 of the metal aircraft were made during its years of manufacture.
  Over the course of time, our plane had made its way to South America then back again to the United States. While out of the country, it apparently had been stripped of its corrugated metal sides and replaced with smooth metal. At that time the aircraft may have been used for cargo transport, as the seats of the craft were easily removable.
  However, by the time it arrived at the Sebring Regional Airport for exhibition at the US Sport Aviation Expo, this particular Ford Trimotor had been re-furbished to the glory that it was when it first rolled off the assembly line.
  The plane’s exterior was interesting, with “City of Wichita” emblazoned on one side  of the cockpit and “City of Port Clinton” on the other, “Ford Trimotor” was painted on the tail, using the old Ford Motor Company Script.
 The inside was ornate, wood paneling dominated the cabin, with small reading lights above each seat (there were no overhead luggage compartments.)  There was a lavatory in the back of the plane, with the commode separated from the door by a canvas curtain.
 The passenger seats were close together with not much leg room by today’s standards. The aisle between was also tight and difficult to navigate. It was easy to see that people in the 1930s were much smaller.
 Instead of a stewardess giving us our pre-flight instructions aboard the plane, we sat outside in folding chairs as a pilot in training dispensed all the needed safety information. He told us that in case of emergency, there were three separate doors that could be used for exits, flotation devices were located under each seat and we were to remain seated and buckled-up the entire ride.
 Mrs. Funmeister and I were encouraged to sit in the front two seats, which they continually referred to as “first class,” so we parked ourselves right behind the cockpit.
 It was a thrill when everybody was buckled in, all was in readiness and those three mighty Pratt & Whitney engines fired up in turn, ready to carry its cargo of ten into the wild blue yonder.
  One really did get the feel of a Greyhound bus, as the Trimotor lumbered out onto the runway for takeoff. The engines then began to roar as we headed down the concrete expanse and lifted gently into the sky.
 The Trimotor was not the most sophisticated aircraft ever built. The steering cables were fully exposed and vibrated as we flew over acres of orange groves, pastureland and lakes.
  Sitting where we were, it was easy to see the pilot and co-pilot working the controls. It seemed they were constantly sawing the varnished wooden steering wheels, working the flaps using foot pedals and hand levers and adjusting things to keep the flight smooth and level.
 Our tour took us east over town, we looked down on the Historic Circle, circumnavigated Lake Jackson, took a ride out over scenic Lorida then headed back to the airport. In all, it took about 20 minutes – although it seemed much less.
  We learned several valuable lessons on this trip. Our main proviso is that we would not sit so close to the engines next time, as the insulation on the plane did not stop much of the engine noise. That being said, it was well worth the price and we would recommend such a trip should one come to your neighborhood.
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