1928 airliner coming to Falcon Field was height of flying luxury

Lifestyle | 20 Jan |

Flying the airlines has not always meant connecting the entire world in a single day. Nor did it mean flight delays, security lines or baggage carousels. At one time, flying to a destination was an adventure and a whole new perspective on travel. 

That sensation is coming back as a rare 1928 Ford Tri-Motor 5-AT airliner, operated by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) in Oshkosh, Wis., makes a stop locally as part of its nationwide tour. The aircraft will be at Falcon Field Airport in Mesa on Jan. 24, 2-5 p.m. and Jan. 25–27, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. It will be at the Falcon Warbirds’ hangar, 4626 E. Fighter Aces Drive.

Advanced online ticket pricing for adults is $70, walk up pricing is $75, and children’s tickets are $50. The public is invited to see and fly in this historic aircraft, which is owned by Liberty Aviation Museum of Port Clinton, Ohio, and operated under a lease agreement with EAA for the national tours. Learn more and reserve your seat on the airplane at www.FlyTheFord.org.

“The Falcon Warbirds EAA Squadron 50 is honored to bring this rare piece of aviation history to Mesa,” said squadron President Dick Stich. “We welcome not only the general public, but local educators and school groups, veterans and senior communities to view the plane. During this special event, we’ll also have other rare aircraft on display courtesy of the Arizona Commemorative Air Force (CAF) Museum. In addition, local car clubs will be showing Ford Model T’s and Model A’s from that era courtesy of Impala Bob’s.”

Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford, who had already changed America through his automobiles, also had a vision of moving people through flight. He saw a time when people would travel across America in airplanes at a speed surpassing the fastest railroad. 

Ford was driven to prove his concept, though. Although fewer than 200 of the Ford Tri-Motors were built over a seven-year period before it was overtaken by newer technology, it showed that passenger flights were possible on a grander scale than ever imagined. 

The Ford Tri-Motor appearing locally was No. 8 of the aircraft’s run, coming off the line in December 1928. It served for Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) and later Transcontinental and Western Air, a forerunner of TWA. The airplane then had its own adventure flying as a tour aircraft over the Grand Canyon and Boulder Dam in 1937, then as an airliner in Honduras and various service in Mexico through the 1940s. After a lengthy period in storage during the 1950s and early ‘60s, the Tri-Motor was purchased in 1964 by William Harrah of Harrah’s Hotel and Casinos fame, who restored the aircraft and had it flown beginning in 1971 before displaying it with his renowned automobile collection in Reno, Nevada. 

After Harrah’s death in the mid-1980s, the aircraft was auctioned off to an Idaho owner and eventually found its way to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, in 1990. In 1996, the airplane was again restored and returned to flying condition. In 2014, Ed Patrick and the Liberty Aviation Museum obtained the aircraft. That group completed restoration updates before working with EAA to fly the historic aircraft to locations throughout North America, as EAA had extensive experience touring its own Ford Tri-Motor. 

This rare Ford Tri-Motor spends it ninth decade of existence much as it started life: carrying passengers on an aerial adventure unlike anything else available today. Today, however, instead of showing the promise of what lies ahead in aviation, it harkens back to a pioneering era in flight. It welcomes all to join in the fun while the airplane is at Falcon Field Airport.

In addition to the Ford Tri-Motor, other aircraft of the same era will be on display for those waiting to ride the Ford Tri-Motor or those who are interested in aviation history. Aircraft displays will include the only Lockheed Vega that is still flying in the world, the same model aircraft in which Amelia Earhart set many aviation records. The first Vega hit the skies in 1927; the one on display was built at the end of the production run in 1933. It was a six-passenger high-wing monoplane airline that set many speed and altitude records in the 1930s.

A Spartan Executive 7W and a Stinson Reliant “Gullwing” will also be on display. The high-performance Spartan was faster than the fastest fighter aircraft at the time. Its large engine and aerodynamic all-metal airframe allowed for high speeds, range and flight altitudes. Only 34 were produced between 1935-1940. The first Stinson Reliants came off the line in 1933. The U.S. government used the utility single-engine four- to five-seat high-wing monoplane during WWII for transport and communications duties. The Vega, Spartan and Stinson are part of the permanent displays at the CAF Museum, 2017 N. Greenfield Road (www.azcaf.org).

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