The Ford Tri-Motor: A Journey Through Aviation History

Ford Tri-Motor
A nearly 100 year old gem takes to the skies. (EAA)

Liberty Aviation Museum’s 1928 Ford Tri-Motor 5-AT-B flew its first flight on December 1, 1928. It was sold to Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT, the logo that graces the aircraft’s fuselage today) in January 1929 where it became NC9645 and was named City of Wichita. It inaugurated westbound transcontinental commercial air service on July 7, 1929, with sister ship City of Columbus.

In April 1931, ownership of the aircraft was transferred to Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA). Here the aircraft helped in the development of TWA’s route system. Then, in July 1935, NC9645 was sold to G. Ruckstill and entered the fleet at Grand Canyon Airlines. From there the Tin Goose was sold to Boulder Dam Tours in February 1937, where it entered sightseeing air tour service.

Ford Tri-Motor 5AT
Ford Tri-Motor 5-AT-B passenger cabin

The Ford was registered AN-AAS with Transportes Aereos del Continente Americano (simply known as TACA Airlines) in Honduras in December 1937, where it stayed until 1942 when purchased by an unknown operator in Compeche, Mexico, and was reregistered as XA-FUB. The registration changed again in 1950 to XA-NET while under the ownership of another individual in Compeche.

1951 brought major overhaul and repairs for No. 8, including removal of the aircraft’s corrugated skin, which was replaced with flat sheet metal. This change earned the aircraft nickname “the smooth-skin Ford.”

Eugene Frank of Caldwell, Idaho, acquired the aircraft in 1955, moving it back to the U.S. and reregistering it. It remained in storage until July 1964, when it was purchased by Nevada’s William F. Harrah of Harrah’s Hotel and Casinos. Harrah returned the plane’s registration to NC9645 and began an extensive seven-year renovation, bringing the aircraft back to airworthy status and restoring the corrugated skin. 

In February 1990, the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, acquired the aircraft. It remained in storage there until 1996 when another restoration of the aircraft started, returning it to flying condition once again.

Ford TriMotor
Cockpit of the 1928 Ford Tri-Motor 5-AT-B

The current owner, Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton, Ohio ferried the aircraft across the country to its new home.  After further maintenance to ensure the aircraft was tour-ready, Liberty entered into a lease agreement with The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), working together to showcase the historic aircraft around the country.

If you check out the tour dates of this aircraft  you can book a flight on the Tri-motor, and climb aboard one of the first mass-produced airliners and step back in time to aviation’s golden age. A flight on EAA’s Ford Tri-Motor is a flight back to an era where air travel was considered a luxury. Revenues from the Ford Tri-Motor tour help cover maintenance and operations costs for the aircraft and aid their ambition to keep the “Tin Goose” flying for many years to come.

Visit the EAA website at  www.eaa.org or additional information and tour dates. 

Mr. Alba was previously Editor of the Airport Press for 12 years covering both local as well as global aviation news. Prior to this, Mr. Alba had Executive positions in Systems Engineering and Marketing with IBM World Trade, and had foreign assignments in the Far East and Latin America earning three Outstanding Achievement Awards. Mr. Alba also directed a new function dealing with Alternate Fuels for Public Service Electric & Gas company in New Jersey and founded a Natural Gas Vehicle Consortium consisting of car company executives and fleet owners, and NGV suppliers in New Jersey. Mr. Alba was a founding partner of ATA, an IT Consulting company which is still active in Central and South America. After leaving the armed forces, Mr. Alba’s initial employee was the U.S. Defense Department as an analyst.

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