TriMotor: Ford's 'Tin Goose' offers flights in aviation history - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

TriMotor: Ford's 'Tin Goose' offers flights in aviation history

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COLLEGEDALE, TN (WRCB) -- He gave us the Model T. The Model A. And the forerunner to the modern assembly line.

But in giving us the 8-9 passenger TriMotor, Henry Ford may well have given America its first taste of the commercial airline industry.

"This is a museum, a flying museum," says Peter King, a Signal Mountain aviation enthusiast rather fond of gliders. "She was the SST of her day. She was fast; 107 miles per hour."

'Her day' was 1925.

"People weren't what the airlines thought they'd make money with," pilot Rand Siegfried says. "It was all about the mail. And if a plane was too heavy with mail, the passenger had to get off during the layover."

"What Ford said was if you treat people like people and not like mailbags, it's gonna work."

Siegfried, and the Experimental Aircraft Association, have flown Ford TriMotor #146 (built in 1929) of the 199 made, to Collegedale's Municipal Airport as part of a 'living history' tour.  Once a stuck valve is unstuck, #146 is set to offer rides Tuesday afternoon and from 9AM-5PM Wednesday. A 15-20 minute flight will cost you $80.

"It's a very comfortable aircraft," Siegfried says. "Comforting too."

'Comfort' is all relative. The EAA's TriMotor is equipped with upgraded leather seats. Standard issue was a wicker chair bolted to the floor. Back in the day, journalists nicknamed the TriMotor the "Tin Goose."

"She's more like a four-wheel drive pickup," King says. "It can carry mining equipment, it can carry passengers. It has a payload of 5500 pounds."

"It's solid," Siegfried says. "Back then, you understand, airplane wings were made out of bed sheets!"

Wall Street crashed in '29. But the TriMotor soared.  She was Richard Byrd's bird for crossing the South Pole and exploring the Antarctic; exploits that elevated a Commander to Admiral, and immortalized his journey in photographs, movies, even plastic model kits.

"This particular airplane started Eastern Airlines," Siegfried says. "Air Cubana, in Cuba . Even was the Dominican Republic's Air Force One, if you would."

It was FDR's too, when he was 'Candidate' Roosevelt in 1932.  A TriMotor 'whistle-stopped' his campaign all the way to the Democratic National Convention, and to the White House. The President and First Lady Eleanor pronounced it 'enjoyable', though the flight to the convention left their eldest son John, fighting nausea.

"This plane got the airline industry into the metal airplane business," King says.  "It was an epiphany."

Such heights were short-lived. "Once everybody saw, things happened quickly," King says.  "The designers started 'improving; let's get rid of  the corrugated skin, it's slow."

But steady, and solid.

Monday's flight from Alabaster, AL, south of Birmingham, turned up some difficulties in the center engine, Siegfried says. By early afternoon, mechanic Rich Nadig was using a mallet to perform some 'shade tree trouble-shooting.'

The diagnosis: a valve is sticking.  FedEx will overnight replacement parts.

If the surgery comes off well, and on-time,  TriMotor #146 will have paying customers airborne over the Tennessee Valley, by mid-afternoon Tuesday.

"She's 83 years old," King enthuses.  "How many 83-year-old ANYTHINGS, are flying today?"

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