Tag Archives: #Valiant Air Command

Ford Trimotor Flight

21 Mar

A Slice of Life

Bill Lites






“Did you hear that the EAA’s 1929 Ford Trimotor is going to be here to give rides next month?” my friend Dick asked me. “No” I said. “Want to go for a ride with me?” he asked. “Sure, where can I sign up?” I said. I was thrilled by the prospect of being able to fly in one of aviation’s early landmark aircraft, and was eager to hear more about it. Dick and I are volunteer tour guides at the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum in Titusville, Florida. We both love airplanes and enjoy telling guests to the museum all about the museum’s 35+ vintage airplanes. When we heard about the EAA’s 1929 Ford Trimotor coming to our museum, we could hardly wait.



Henry Ford had wanted to get into the commercial aircraft manufacturing business, to take advantage of the growing domestic commercial airline industry in the United States. So in 1923, Ford bought the Stout Metal Airplane Company, and William B. Stout became chief designer for the new Ford Aircraft Division.The Stout 3-AT Trimotor was the first all-metal commercial transport built in the U.S. much of which was based on early design and developments by the German designer Hugo Junkers. The implacable and underpowered aircraft was barely able to maintain altitude, and Henry Ford was furious. Tom Towle was put in charge of Ford’s aircraft engineering department, and along with Otto Koppen, John Lee and James McDonnell, refined the 3-AT into the 4-AT and eventually into what we now know as the 5-AT Ford Trimotor (commonly known as the “Tin Goose”),





These rugged aircraft were built to handle rough field operations and could also be fitted with floats or skis. The design of the Ford Trimotor represented a quantum leap over other airliners of its time, providing fast and efficient transportation for the airline industry. A total of 199 Ford Trimotors were built between 1926 and 1933. Well over 100 airlines, worldwide, would fly the Ford Trimotor from mid-1927 to late 1933, when more modern airliners began to appear to take their place. By the early 1930’s, the Ford Aircraft Division was reputedly seen as the “largest manufacturer of commercial airplanes in the world.”



The Ford Trimotor became known for its use on many record breaking flights. Commander Richard E. Byrd made the first flight above the geographic South Pole on November 27 and 28, 1929, in a Ford Trimotor named the Floyd Bennett.



A Ford Trimotor was even used for the flight of Elm Farm Ollie, the first cow to fly in an aircraft and to be milked in mid-flight. One of the most famous 5-AT Ford Trimotors was used for 65 years, by Scenic Airways, to fly visitors on sight-seeing flights over Arizona’s beautiful Grand Canyon.



The day arrived for our flight “To Experience the Golden Age of Aviation” in our 1929 5-AT Ford Trimotor. During our pre-flight briefing (seatbelt safety, etc.), we were told this airplane was very simple, and was mechanically flown by the pilot. Then he added that the pilot only had to remember one number. That number was “90 mph”- 90 mph to takeoff – 90 mph for cruise – and 90 mph for landing. We were the first two passengers in line, so we took the two bulkhead seats. This allowed us to talk to the pilot, through the opening to the cockpit, while the plane was loading, and to observe the starting of the two wing engines, out our windows.



The interior of the plane was beautifully restored with rich wood paneling and Art Deco style fixtures of the early 1920’s and 1930’s. The plane had large windows which gave the passengers great visibility during our flight. The seats were very modern and comfortable, with modern seat belts and life vests.  I’m sure they were much more comfortable than the Wicker seats (no seat belts) I’ve read about, that were furnished in the first commercial Ford Trimotor’s. I’m not sure I would feel very safe riding in an airplane in that configuration!



After take-off, we turned south and flew at approximately 1000 feet down U.S.#1. It was a beautiful clear day, and to the east we could see the Indian River and NASA’s Vertical Assembly Building (VAB), and to the west Port St. John, Cocoa and Rockledge. The vibration and noise levels made it hard to talk to my friend across the aisle, but were not as bad as I had expected. Now we turned back north toward TICO Airport, and we were able to view the scenery the passengers on the other side of the plane had been able to see on the way south. The guy at the pre-flight briefing had been right; I could tell little engine difference from takeoff to landing.



My friend, Dick, is a pilot, and after we landed, he had several questions for the pilot while the other passengers were disembarking. I have to admit it was an exciting adventure, and I am really glad we took the flight. And now I have another item I can check off of my “Life’s Bucket List.”




—–The End—–


If you are interested in enjoying one of these amazing flights go to eea.org





My Western Trip~Part 6

11 Jun

 A Slice of Life

By Bill Lites

Bill Small Red Plane


Next, it was over to Simi Valley, CA for a tour of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum. I was impressed with the 24 different galleries, which traced Reagan’s life from his early days as local hero, college standout, glamorous Hollywood actor, then as governor of California, and ultimately to the presidency of the United States. There was even a full-sized replica of the Oval Office in one of the galleries. But, of course the thing that impressed me the most was Air Force One (S/N 27000), also known as “The Flying Whitehouse” and the Marine One helicopter (S/N 150611), both of which Reagan used while President. I asked one of the Docents how they got the plane in the building, and she said, “They built three sides of the new building, took the wings and tail assembly off the plane, so they could bring it in through the fourth opening, and re-assembled the airplane inside. Then they finished the fourth all glass wall. For the full story of how the U.S. President’s airplane got its name, Google “Air Force One.” It’s a fascinating story I think you will enjoy knowing.



Before leaving Simi Valley, I stopped at the Santa Susana Railroad Depot & Museum to get the history of an early California railroad depot and its operations. This was one of the most unusual and interesting small museums. The depot is an example of what the Southern Pacific Railroad called their Standard No. 22 Depot in 1903. The depot has been meticulously restored with many original furnishings and working equipment, that the Docent uses to explain to visitors how the depots operated in the early 20th century. Today, on what was the old Southern Pacific rails, Amtrak’s Coast Starlight trains head up and down the coast, and the daily Surfliner and Metrolink trains ferry commuters in and out of Los Angeles.



Now, because of a time constraint, I headed west to Oxnard, CA where I quickly visited the small Mullin Automotive and Murphy Auto Museums. I also visited the Channel Island Maritime Museum, there in Oxnard, where I learned something very interesting about some of the early 17th century Dutch Maritime painters. It seems that some of them painted in such detail that (with a very strong magnifying glass) one can see that each of the distant subjects in the painting has been given details such as a pipe in the mouth, some with a mustache and all with a nose, ears and even eyebrows. The kind of details you might expect in a close-up portrait painting, but not in a battle scene at sea. And, then there were the fabulous model ships, many of them crafted by the Curator/Docent that took me on a tour of the museum. The model ship detail was outstanding! What a great tour.



Then, to round out the day, I visited the CAF WWII Aviation Museum in Camarillo, CA. This museum is very similar in size and display aircraft to the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum here in Titusville, FL where I volunteer as a tour guide one day each week. They had an AT-6 and a two-place P-51 Mustang, both actively giving rides while I was there, and I got some really good close-up photos of both as they fired up their engines, taxied out with their passengers and took off. I always get a thrill when I hear the sound of a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine at full throttle passing overhead.




—–To Be Continued—–

%d bloggers like this: