DeKALB – Traveling on board a Ford Tri-Motor airplane is like stepping into the past, full of adventure and excitement 1,000 feet above the ground.
Nicknamed “The Tin Goose,” the nine-seater metal airplane offers an experience unlike any on a modern aircraft. The Tri-Motor’s engines are louder, its aisle smaller. The plane has circular vents in its windows instead of air conditioning, and its seats have old-fashioned buckle seat belts. Only 199 Ford Tri-Motor planes were built from 1926 to 1933, and they were state-of-the-art for their time.
EAA pilot Ed Rusch believes that is why the Ford Tri-Motor withstood the test of time and is in perfect flying condition today. Rusch has been flying Tri-Motor airplanes since the 1970s.
“The Ford Tri-Motor is not an airplane, it is an artifact of aviation,” Rusch said. “It is the first all-metal passenger airliner built in the U.S.”
The Ford Tri-Motor made the first commercial flight from the United States to Mexico City, as well as the first commercial flight over the Canadian Rockies. The plane was also flown by Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Indiana Jones in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
The plane is also important to local history: The first commercial airline service out of DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport in the early 1940s was on a Ford Tri-Motor airplane, according to Tom Cleveland, airport manager.
While the 1929 Ford Tri-Motor NC8407 is in town through Sunday, the public can step up into the plane and step back in time. Piloted by Rusch, flights on the Ford Tri-Motor at the airport will be offered 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $50 for children ages 17 and younger and $75 for adults in person or $70 if purchased online in advance at flytheford.org. Five bucks from each ticket will benefit local EAA Chapter 241.
During their 15- to 20-minute flight, passengers can look out their window to see a bird’s-eye-view of DeKalb and Sycamore, spotting NIU’s Huskie Stadium, DeKalb High School, golf courses, fields of green and gold before harvest – maybe even their house.
Joy Gulotta from Esmond flew on the Tri-Motor Thursday with her husband, Joe.
“It’s so interesting to see DeKalb and Sycamore from a totally different perspective,” Joy Gulotta, said. “The roads meander through the community and buildings look so different. It was beautiful. It’s given me a better appreciation of our community.”
The 1929 Ford Tri-Motor NC8407 also has a unique history. The plane was first owned by Pitcairn Aviation, as the first plane in Eastern Air Transport’s fleet. The plane was sold in 1930 to operate as airline passenger and mail service in Havana, Cuba. From 1946 to 1948, it was used by the Dominican Air Force, where it might have been used as Air Force One, transporting the Dominican president.
The plane returned to the United States and was a barnstormer in 1949, a crop sprayer in 1950, and helped fight forest fires as a borate bomber and smoke jumper aircraft in the 1950s. In the 1960s, the plane was used as a crop sprayer, traveled around the Midwest giving rides, and appeared in “The Family Jewels” starring Jerry Lewis and Sebastian Cabot.
The EAA Air Museum Foundation purchased the plane in 1973 and restored the plane to airworthy condition. The plane appeared in “Public Enemies” starring Johnny Depp in 2008 and now travels around the U.S. for public rides.
Cleveland, the local airport's manager, said having the plane visit DeKalb is a great way for the community to have history come to life at their local airport.
“We have been looking into having a Ford Tri-Motor come to DeKalb for 12 years, because it is the type of plane that first flew commercially from the airport in the early 1940s,” Cleveland said. “A flight on the Tri-Motor really is a step back in time. It allows everyone to learn about, appreciate and witness vintage aviation first-hand.”