Friday, July 11, 2014

Flying in an Antique Airplane!

For several years now, I’ve been trying to find a way to give Laurie the experience of flying on a DC-3.  We’ve flown on helicopters, gliders, single engine float planes, DC-9’s, 737’s, 767’s, DC-10’s and 747’s… We’ve been inside passenger equipped DC-3’s, Martin 404’s and Lockheed Constellations.  Frustratingly, the only airline I’ve been able to find in North America that still has DC-3 flights is Buffalo Airlines up in northern Canada.  I personally had flown DC-3’s back in the late 1950’s on  a Lake Central Airlines route from Detroit Michigan over to Erie Pennsylvania and then on to Buffalo New York.

Then I saw a brief news item on one of the local TV stations in Knoxville… An organization based in Wisconsin was offering flights at a local Tennessee airport on a true antique airplane…

What if I could buy us tickets for a flight on a plane that pre-dates the DC-3 airplanes…or even the DC-2’s!?  The plane in the sky above is not your typical passenger plane!  It is a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor…

These planes were nicknamed “The Tin Goose”.  To overcome concerns about engine reliability, they added a third engine.  Another major step forward for passenger comfort at that time was the fully enclosed cabin!  The first 3 Tri-Motors produced actually had open cockpits…as many doubted that a plane could be flown without direct “feel of the wind”!

In this photo, the Ford Tri-Motor passenger plane is landing at Knoxville’s Downtown Island Airport…

Back in the 1920’s, Henry Ford decided to get into the fast growing aviation business.  He purchased the Stout Aviation Company in 1925.  William Stout had studied the successful German Junkers airliner and he designed a commercial aircraft along the same lines. 

Above, the Ford Tri-Motor is rolling along the tarmac to the spot where it would stop to let passengers off and then pick up another load…

Unlike many of the aircraft of its time, the Ford Tri-Motor was all metal, rather than fabric and metal.  As was Henry Ford’s practice, the Tri-Motor was inexpensive to produce and operate as an airliner.  This one, Model 4-AT-E, (NC8407), cost $55,000 new.  She was the 146th off the assembly line and her first flight was on August 21, 1929. 

The pilot of the Tri-Motor, Colin Soucy, is a retired airline captain and an Experimental Aircraft Association Volunteer.  The EAA is based in Oshkosh Wisconsin, which is the home of the annual EAA AirVenture Oshkosh air show…one of the largest and most extensive air shows in the world.  This year it will run from July 28th through August 3rd.  To learn more about AirVenture Oshkosh, you can check it out at

Despite minimal coverage by the local media, EAA volunteers weren’t having any trouble filling up the plane with airplane enthusiasts. Between flights, folks walked around the plane and took lots of photos…both inside and out…

The Tri-Motor’s corrugated skin gives the metal added stiffness while reducing weight.  The plane was and is reliable and rugged, at least partially due to their simple design and construction.  A total of 199 of these aircraft were built between 1926 and1933.  At this point, 18 of them are still intact and based on 2012 information, 8 are still flying.  However, this is the only one that flies on a regular basis during most of the year.

We needed fuel before our flight could take us on our little journey.  That’s the pilot pumping the fuel…

Henry Ford never made a profit from aircraft production and the last Ford Tri-Motor rolled off the assembly line in 1933.  Aircraft competition heated up that year with the introduction of the Boeing 247. ( The Douglas DC-2 entered the marketplace in 1934. ( The DC-3, which was one of the world’s most successful airliners, was introduced in 1935; only a year after the DC-2 debuted. (

This little girl found refuge from the sun in the shade provided by the horizontal stabilizer or tailplane.  She was one of the passengers on our flight and this was her first flight ever! She did great!

Children under 2 can be carried on an adult’s lap.  Weather permitting, flight times were from 9 AM until 5 PM daily while at the airport.  The cost per adult for a flight on the Tri-Motor was $75.00.  The airplane holds up to 9 passengers…

Here’s the view inside the Ford Tri-Motor’s passenger cabin.  Note the wood work and the big windows… Laurie sat right in front of me on the left and here she’s taking her own photo of the cabin and the cockpit.

This particular Ford Tri-Motor was originally sold to Pitcairn Aviation’s passenger division, Eastern Air Transport.  Eastern Air Transport later became Eastern Airlines which operated from 1926 to 1991.  To learn more about Pitcairn Aviation go to, and to learn more about Eastern Airlines, you can go to

This was Laurie’s view as we took off on our flight… She was sitting right behind 1 of the 3 Pratt and Whitney 9 cylinder 450 horsepower engines…2 mounted under the wings and 1 on the nose of the aircraft.  The Tri-Motor has a cruising speed of 90 mph, holds 230 gallons of aviation fuel and it has a range of 500 miles.

This was our view looking back at Knoxville’s Downtown Island Airport on Dickinson Island and the Tennessee River.  The airport, (designated DKX), handles more than 83,000 flight operations a year.  Over 140 aircraft are based here, including the Knox County Sheriff’s helicopters.  This airport began operations in 1930 and in the 1940’s, it served as a training facility for Army Air Cadets.  For more about Knoxville’s Downtown Island Airport, you can go to or

Here we’re flying over downtown Knoxville with its bridges over the Tennessee River.  Our altitude during this 15 minute flight was at roughly 1,000 feet, perfect for sightseeing and taking photos!

Here’s another view of the center of Knoxville, looking back the other way… Knoxville is the principal city of the Knoxville Metropolitan Statistical Area, which had an estimated population of 848,350 in 2012.

Settled in 1786, Knoxville served as the first capital of Tennessee. During the Civil War, the city was bitterly divided over the secession issue, and was occupied alternately by both Confederate and Union armies.  The 1982 World's Fair was held in Knoxville and it became one of the most popular world's fairs in U.S. history with 11 million visitors. To learn more about Knoxville Tennessee, just go to,_Tennessee.

In this photo, you’re looking down at the campus of the University of Tennessee, home of the “Vols” and the university’s famous Neyland Stadium.  The university is attended by over 27,000 students… For more on the University, just go to

Knoxville and nearby areas are also home to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee Valley Authority, the Smoky Mountain National Park, Fort Loudoun Lake, Tellico Lake and several major boat builders.  These include Master Craft, Sea Ray, Skier’s Choice, Colbalt, Bryant, Malibu, Bullet and Stroker boats.  To learn more about Knoxville, go to or,_Tennessee.

We got another nice view of the Knoxville Island Airport as we circled back and prepared to land…

Here are some Ford Tri-Motor facts:
  • ·        First all-metal, multi-engine commercial airliner.
  • ·        Led to the construction of the first airline terminal for passengers.
  • ·        Was the first regularly scheduled passenger airliner to operate.
  • ·        Led to the first hotel designed for air travelers, the Dearborn MI Inn.
  • ·        Led to the creation of the first paved runway.
  • ·        First airline that led to required crew training.
t    I took this photo of Laurie as we circled back to land… Between us, I think that we took over 150 photos!  We sure love digital photography…just snap away and delete or print the photos that you really want…

In 1930, this Tri-Motor was leased to Cubana Airlines where it inaugurated air service between Havana and Santiago de Cuba, another important Cuban city.  It was later flown by the government of the Dominican Republic.  It returned to the USA in 1949 for use in airshows. For a while it was used as a crop duster and then it was used as a chemical fire ‘bomber’ and later for use by smoke jumpers.  Then it was back to air shows and it was also used in the Jerry Lewis movie “Family Jewels”.  The plane was at the 1973 Oshkosh EAA Fly-In event when it was severely damaged in a thunderstorm.  EAA purchased the wreckage and after 12 years of restoration, it once again took to the air.  What a history!!

Laurie took this picture as we came down low over the Tennessee River on final approach to the Knoxville Downtown Island Airport.  Note that the landing gear on the Ford Tri-Motor is not retractable…

Here are some interesting factoids about America in 1929, (85 years ago), when this actual plane was first flown:
  • ·        A Ford Model A cost $500.00.
  • ·        The average house cost $8,000.00.
  • ·        The gas price hit 20 cents a gallon!
  • ·        In September of that year, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began.
  • ·        Babe Ruth hit his 500th home run.
  • ·        Cleveland Ohio became the first airport with a control tower.
  • ·        JC Penney opened its first store in Delaware, reaching all 48 states.
  • ·        Herbert Hoover is President.
  • ·        My father was only 18 and my mother was only 13… It would be several years before they even met.
  • ·        Admiral Richard Byrd flew over the South Pole…in a Ford Tri-Motor!

Laurie took this photo of the air service/passenger terminal at Knoxville’s Downtown Island Airport as we taxied to the conclusion of our terrific flying adventure!  We had a great time flying in this historic airplane and the weather was perfect too… Now if we could only find a DC-3 to experience too!

To learn more about the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), just go to  To learn more about flying on the Ford Tri-Motor and to view its schedule of stops across the country, check it out at  This week it’s flying in Pontiac Michigan at the Oakland County International Airport…

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by to join us on our flight in an antique airplane!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. What a fun adventure and your really got some great shots. We would love something like this too. My husband is a private pilot and would love to get his hands on the wheel on an old plane someday :)

    Hope you and Laurie have a nice weekend.

  2. What a neat adventure and great way to see Knoxville. I flew a Lake Central DC-3 out of Morgantown, WV when I was in college. This post had to take you a while to put together with all of the research you must have done.

  3. Interesting, I've been on prop planes, helicopters and sea planes, but think I'll stick to jets. Great pics of the TN River and area! Have a fun weekend.

  4. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE that ride... So glad you all got to take it. You have given us so much interesting info not only about the plane but also about 1929. SO interesting... THANKS.

    My brother at one time owned his own Piper Cub... When I visited him in Florida (many years ago), he took me for a long ride in that little plane. I said at that time that I wanted to get my pilot's license and fly a little Cessna... WELL---marriage, working fulltime, raising kids, having no money ALL got in the way and that never happened. Maybe I'll get to do it in my 'next' lifetime... ha

  5. How exciting! Keep living the dream :-)