- Associated Press - Monday, May 22, 2017

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - This was not going to be the typical modern-day flying experience.

“Get ready to go back into history, folks,” Russ Ryle, one of the volunteers at the event, told passengers before boarding the 1929 Ford Tri-Motor aircraft Thursday afternoon.

One by one, the engines on the aircraft powered on. With each flip of a switch, the power needed to turn the planes’ propellers caused the all-metal body of the aircraft to vibrate.

Nine passengers were aboard, 11 if the pilot and co-pilot were included, as a plane engineered for air travel back in the 1920s flew about 1,000 feet above Bloomington.

The sound of the engines and howling wind were not as muffled as if one were sitting in the passenger cabin of a modern airplane. There was no air conditioning, but a breeze from the outside could be felt all the way at the rear of the aircraft. It originated from the pilot’s cockpit, where the windows were open.

Tom Leahy, a volunteer pilot with the Experimental Aircraft Association, said when passengers board, it is like taking a trip down aviation memory lane.

“It’s very interesting; it’s great,” Leahy said. “I’ve never seen anybody get out unhappy and without a smile.”

He said the event at the airport this weekend is part of a much larger tour that the Experimental Aircraft Association, which owns the aircraft, is doing as part of an outreach program.

Leahy said 199 Ford Tri-Motors were built and in operation as commercial airliners until about the early 1930s, when they started to be replaced with more advanced aircraft for passenger travel. The aircraft being used at the airport is the 69th to be built.

For many, the Ford Tri-Motor aircraft was important because it was the first multi-engine commercial airliner.

When the first commercial airliners were developed in the 1920s, most people around the country had never even seen an airplane, much less traveled in one, said John Hayes, a member with the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association.

He said air travel in those days was nothing like it is today. For example, traveling coast to coast would have taken a couple of days, and connections along the way involved not only other aircraft, but trains as well.

“This is a slower, shorter duration airplane,” Hayes said.

Along with the history associated with this type of aircraft, the one residents will climb aboard at the airport has an interesting backstory as well.

After no longer carrying passengers as part of Eastern Air Transport, later known as Eastern Airlines, the aircraft became part of Cubana Airlines and the “Air Force One” in the Dominican Republic, according to a plaque on the aircraft’s door detailing its history.

Once it returned stateside, it was then used for barnstorming, crop dusting and firefighter smoke jumping. Also, while another Ford Tri-Motor plane was used in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” the plane on the tarmac at the Monroe County Airport made movie appearances in the 1965 Jerry Lewis film “The Family Jewels” and the 2009 film “Public Enemies” starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger.

In 1973, Leahy said, the plane was severely damaged in a windstorm. The EAA purchased the wreckage and refurbished the plane, making it operational to fly again and be used on tours.


Source: The (Bloomington) Herald Times, https://bit.ly/2rmM8pj


Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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