Flying in the “Tin Goose”

Flight in a Vintage 1929 Ford Tri-Motor

The Ford Tri-Motor, known affectionately as the Tin Goose, was world’s first mass produced airliner.  Built with corrugated aluminum, the Tri-Motor resembled more like a tool shed than an airplane.

Nevertheless, it was rugged and durable.  This all-metal airliner introduced many elements of modern aviation that we know today:  an enclosed cabin, redundant engines; facilities such as paved runways, airport terminals, radio navigation were created because of the Tri-Motor.

Designed by Stout Metal Airplane, a division of the Ford Motor Company, 199 Tri-Motors were built between 1926 and 1933. Tri-Motor’s all metal construction backed by the Ford name convinced the public that it was a safe airplane to fly.

I flew in Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) aircraft NC8407, a Tri-Motor model 4-AT-E.  It was built in 1929 for Eastern Air Transport (a predecessor of Eastern Airlines) and restored between 1973 and 1985.  Originally powered by three 300-hp Wright R-975 nine-cylinder radial piston engines, NC8407 was upgraded to Pratt & Whitney R-985 “Wasp Junior” engines.  With two 450 horsepower engines and one 550 horsepower engine, NC8407 is the most powerful Tri-Motor flying today.

The EAA brought NC8407 to San Carlos Airport (SQL) as a part of its national tour, offering 30-minute experience flights.  Each flight carried up to ten passengers.  For an extra fee, one lucky passenger can opt to fly as the “co-pilot”.

I paid $70 for the flight and $55 upgrade to sit in the right seat in the cockpit (of course I did!).

Photo:  Mike Chew

After waiting for about three hours watching the Tri-Motor flying in and out of SQL all afternoon long, I finally got to fly on “Flight 20”.  We took the southern route on my flight.  After making a quick rotation off Runway 30, we turned south and went along San Francisco Bay. 

With the side window open, the scenery below in the late afternoon sun cruising by at 90 mph at 1500 feet was spectacular!

We turned north over Palo Alto and before landing back at San Carlos.  Alas the flight ended all too quickly; total air time was a short 14 minutes.  Upon taxi back to the ramp at Hiller Aviation Museum, we taxied next to the raised platform at the museum allowing for some nice photo ops for the spectators.

Photo:  Mike Chew

Over three days, I flew in the most advanced airliner of today, the Boeing 787, and the most modern airliner of the 1920s, the Ford Tri-Motor.  I traveled back 86 years in three days.  I am still in awe…

See video and more photos from my flight

Photo:  Justin Cederholm
Photo:  Sagar Pathak


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