A step inside the 1929 Ford Tri-Motor airplane is a step back in time. The first full-metal plane with multiple engines earned the nickname “Tin Lizzie” and featured eight passenger seats, originally made from lightweight wicker.
This weekend, local aviation enthusiasts will get their chance to see the historic plane – one of eight still flying today – and take a ride as the Experimental Aircraft Association sponsors a visit from the rare plane at Buffalo-Lancaster Regional Airport.
“It’s a beautiful looking airplane – immaculate, perfect, clean and shiny – like a new car," said Michael Adragna, a member of EAA who helped organize the local event." Riding in it is an experience of a lifetime, not just for Lancaster but for people around the country. It’s kind of like riding in a Conestoga wagon in the Old West.”
The Ford Tri-Motor was designed and built by a division of the Ford Motor Company using assembly-line techniques perfected by Henry Ford on automobiles in Dearborn, Mich., said Paul Pederson, a retired Air Force master sergeant and president of local EEA Chapter 46. He said it came off the Ford assembly line on Aug. 21, 1929, and was sold to Eastern Air Transport. From 1930 to 1949, it served as a plan in Cubana de Aviación – a national airline in Cuba – before it was put into service by the Dominican Republic as its Air Force One.
The aircraft also played a role in two motion pictures, said Pederson: “The Family Jewels” in 1965 with Jerry Lewis, and “Public Enemies” in 2009 with Johnny Depp.
"It cruises at 107 mph, can reach an altitude of 16,500 feet and has a range of 570 miles, so it could take you to New York City," he said.
But it hit some bumps in more recent years. Pedersen said it was damaged in 1985 after it was flipped by a hurricane and tossed upside down.
"It took 12 years to restore,” he said.
Visitors will see an interior space of wood-grain paneling and vinyl high-back seats with aluminum.
The commercial airliner carried a crew of three – a pilot, copilot and flight attendant – as well as eight or nine passengers. The rugged Tri-Motor, manufactured from 1926 to 1933, gained a reputation for being safe and dependable, according to information provided by the Henry Ford Organization.
Illustrations of businessmen in lightweight wicker seats onboard the Tri-Motor accompanied a published advertisement touting the plane’s safety and durability. The ad entitled “First One Up!” is from 1928 is also explained on the Ford website.
The EAA, headquartered in Oshkosh, Wis., is an international organization composed of about 200,000 aviation enthusiasts and pilots. It’s annual convention in July is a weeklong event that features 10,000 airplanes 1,000 education lecturers.
The local chapter has a membership of about 95 people. Adragna said the word “experimental” in the organization name may confuse those outside the group, conjuring images of people cobbling together airplanes in their garages. But Adragna said most experimental craft are usually built from manufactured kits.
Demonstration flights on the Tri-Motor cost from $52 to $72 and will be available continuously from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday at the Lancaster airport at 4343 Walden Ave. For ticket information, call the EAA at 920-379-8348.
“It takes a lot of money to keep these things flying,” said Pederson. “Try looking for a part for a 1929 airplane."
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