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How to soar in a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor plane over Hamilton, Ohio

The 1929 Ford Tri-Motor is offering rides July 16 and 17 from Butler County Regional Airport in Hamilton, Ohio.
The 1929 Ford Tri-Motor is offering rides July 16 and 17 from Butler County Regional Airport in Hamilton, Ohio.

Aviation fans can climb aboard a rare 1929 Ford Tri-Motor and sail above Southwest Ohio on July 16 and 17.

A Ford Tri-Motor in the air.

The 1929 Ford Tri-Motor 5-AT from the Kalamazoo Air Zoo will be taking paying passengers up for a spin from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. July 16 and 17 from the Butler County Regional Airport in Hamilton, Ohio. Flights are about 15 minutes long.

The Tri-Motor can carry up to 10 passengers at once, and every seat has a window for visibility and photography. Tickets are $70 in advance for adults, $75 walk up, and $50 for children 17 years old and younger. Each passenger must sign a liability waiver.

The flights are part of an 11-state tour with the Ford Tri-Motor sponsored by Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), a 176,000-member group of aviation enthusiasts.

"Ford built 199 Tri-Motors," said co-pilot Mike Woods of Milwaukee, "and six to eight of them are in flying condition. Only two--this plane and one owned by EAA--fly on a regular basis."

Back to the start of mass air transportation

The Ford Tri-Motor—the “Tin Goose”-- was the world’s first mass-produced airliner, and a flight on her was the height of Roaring ’20s luxury air travel.

Henry Ford revolutionized Americans’ mobility with his Model T “Tin Lizzie” car. After World War I and the birth of aerial warfare, he turned his interest to mass air transportation. He put three engines on the Ford Tri-Motor aircraft to overcome concerns about reliability.

Ford enclosed the cabin for passenger comfort--even though the roar of the three engines is louder than any lawn mower or vacuum cleaner. While the first three Tri-Motors retained the pilot seat in an open cockpit, because many pilots doubted a plane could be flown without direct “feel of the wind,” the EAA says, Ford soon enclosed the pilot within the plane, too.

Ford Motor Company built 199 Tri-Motors from 1926 through 1933. This particular Tri-Motor 5-AT was No. 58, coming off the assembly line in April 1929, according to co-pilot Ahsley Messenger. It was delivered to National Air Transport, where it probably delivered freight and mail.

What's the in-flight movie?

Messenger jokes with his passengers that they're welcome to use their cell phones during the flight. "They won't interfere with the navigational system, because we don't have a navigational system. Call anyone you want, and text away."

When a passenger asks what's the movie, Messenger's quick with "Gone with the Wind."

Stats of the Ford Tri-Motor 5-AT

Here are the plane’s specifications:


  • Original Engine P&W Wasp 420HP
  • Gross Weight 13,500 pounds
  • Cruise speed 122mph
  • Stall speed 64 mph
  • Range 560 miles
  • Rate of Climb 1050 fpm
  • Ceiling 18,500’
  • Engine Out 10,500’
  • Wing Span 77’6”
  • Wing Area 835 sq.ft.
  • Length 50’3”
  • Height 12’8”
  • Cabin width 4’6”
  • Cabin height 6’0”
  • Cabin Length 18’9”
  • Cabin Cubic ft 529’
  • Max. seating 15
  • Fuel Capacity 277-355 gallons

Hard-working history of this Ford Tri-Motor

The Tri-Motor quickly went to Ford Motor Company for modifications, according to EAA, and was sold to Northwest Airways flying the Minneapolis/St. Paul-to-Chicago run. It was one of five Tri-Motors bought by what would become Northwest Airlines.

The 5-AT then flew out to Seattle, where it was bought by the co-founder of Northern Air Transport. Based in Fairbanks, Alaska, the plane carried freight for what became Wien Alaskan Airlines, later Alaska Airlines.

In 1945, the Tri-Motor was flown from Alaska to Monroe, Mich., where Monroe Airways completely overhauled it and used it for barnstorming and rides. From there, the Tri-Motor was flying for scenic flights into the Grand Canyon and delivering smokejumpers to forest fires.

The plane was rented back to Northwest Airlines in 1956 to participate in the company’s 30th anniversary. Kal-Aero of Kalamazoo purchased the Tri-Motor and began rebuilding it. After many years of work, the new Tri-Motor flew again on July 15, 1991. It was purchased and donated to the Kalamazoo Air Zoo.

When you fly

Fly the Ford, Butler County Regional Airport and Hamilton, Ohio.

EAA or 800-564-6322. For tickets, 800-843-3612. The EAA Aviation Center is in Oshkosh, Wisc., home of the annual EAA AirVenture celebration of flight. The 2013 AirVenture is July 29-Aug. 4.

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