Some days, aviation isn’t about experimentals – it can be hard to pass up the opportunity to get a ride in a classic! Today was such a day – the EAA’s Ford Tri-motor is in town (giving rides out of the Carson City, Nevada airport through the weekend if anyone is interested), and seeing as how I had never had a chance to go aloft in this classic of aviation history, and they were offering a media seat, I grabbed the cameras and headed to the airport.
What impressed me most about this restored machine from 1928 is just how many of the fundamentals they observed in airplane construction then are still around today. Even though the airplane was recently gone over to bring it back to its original glory, it still uses the same parts and methods from its design days – cables, pulleys, nuts, bolts and cotter pins – the same things we do today to make aircraft safe and reliable.
There were little touches of simplicity that homebuilders can enjoy – the external bell cranks and cables for controls for instance – simple, easy to maintain, and since the airplane goes so slow, there’s no real drag penalty. And the engine gauges mounted out on the struts above the nacelles – visible from the cockpit without having to run little pressure tubes al the way from the wings back into the cockpit. Today, we’d do it with electronic sensors and gauges – but they weren’t around back then. Again – drag is just not an issue!
I’ve ridden in a number of old bombers, and have some DC-3 time... but this was different – the wood-paneled cabin with little polished reading lights and individual hand-crafted vent tubes – this was craftsmanship, not CNC mass production. The corrugated skin looks odd, but gives great strength. And the fact that it has no flaps – just a high lift wing like a Cub, and there isn’t much to worry about.
No, I didn’t get to fly it – but riding in back was just about as much fun. Clearly fun for the crew as well – all smiles, all the time. If you get a chance, I’d have to recommend it – a short ride to put aviation back in perspective – and bring a little of the glories of the olden days of air travel into your life.