TERRE HAUTE —
When automotive entrepreneur Henry Ford constructed aircraft intended for paying passengers back in the 1920s, he was envisioning future transportation that would outpace the earth-bound vehicles he was already mass producing.
An example of that vision is “The Tin Goose,” a restored 1929 Ford Tri-Motor. It visits Hulman Field today and Wednesday and offers a trip back in time to the early days of fixed-wing flights for humans.
And as pilot Rand Siegfried described it, today’s passengers are flying in a time machine.
“When you’re in here,” he said, “you have the sights, the smells, the sounds; it’s really the transportation of 1929. You might think it’s slow and loud, but your competition in 1929 was a Model A on a rutted dirt road.”
The plane is owned and operated by the Experimental Aircraft Association, based in Oshkosh, Wis., and the visit to Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field is hosted by local EAA Chapter 83.
In fact, Siegfried is volunteering his time to pilot the craft, while local EAA members are volunteering as the ground crew.
Rides on the aircraft are available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Wednesday. Prices for a ride are $50 for EAA members, $60 for non-members. For $100, a passenger can ride in the co-pilot seat.
The exterior of the plane carries all the markings of the original. Eastern Air Transport Inc. was the forerunner of Eastern Airlines. The plane was used for passenger transport by Eastern until 1930, and then was based in the Dominican Republic from 1930-49. From 1949 to 1973, the plane was used for barnstorming, crop dusting and smoke jumping.
In 1965, the plane was used in the Jerry Lewis movie “The Family Jewels,” and it was most recently used in the Johnny Depp/John Dillinger gangster movie “Public Enemies.”
The EAA purchased the plane in 1973 and restored it, and since 1985 it has been used for passenger flights as a revenue source for the EAA.
“It’s styled like a Pullman car,” Siegfried said of the craft’s interior, referring to luxury rail cars. “It’s not a rickety fabric plane.”
When Ford went into aircraft production, he wanted to make passenger planes that the public would trust. Because the engines on small planes had a tendency to quit during flight, Ford put three motors on his bird.
The plane’s interior has nine relatively comfortable passenger seats — the joke being that each seat is both an aisle and a window seat — and wood paneling.
And a spectacular view from above the earth.
A flight for local media and a few paying customers was the Tri-Motor’s first flight of the day on Monday.
“You bring these to life, you don’t start them,” Siegfried said as he flipped switches to fire up first the nose engine and then the engine on each wing. The “Tin Goose” is 146th out of 199 Ford Tri-Motors constructed. It first flew on Aug. 21, 1929.
Siegfried took the plane up to about 1,000 feet, making a sweeping arc from the airport, west over downtown Terre Haute before heading back to Hulman Field. Passengers pointed out local landmarks and saw a community that appears much closer geographically when viewed from above.
Siegfried has been giving the “barnstorming” rides for the EAA for about five years. He said his father first taught him to fly an old plane, and he enjoys giving today’s passengers a flight similar to a 1929 experience.
“It’s a fun ride,” he said.
For more information about the Ford Tri-Motor and the EAA AirVenture Museum in Wisconsin, go online to www.pioneerairport.org.
Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org.