ELKHART — Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Well, yes, it is a plane in the sky over Elkhart this weekend, but it’s a very old one, and the Experimental Aircraft Association is offering tours in the 1928 Ford Tri-Motor.
In fact, this type of airplane was the first all-metal, multiengine commercial airliner, according to the EAA.
Some 199 were made, and this particular one began flying for Transcontinental Air Transport in January 1929.
“You’d start out on the east coast on a train, wake up in the morning in Columbus, Ohio, get on a Tri-Motor, end up in Oklahoma, get on a train, wake up in New Mexico, get on a Tri-motor. At the end of that day you were on the west coast,” said pilot Dave Ross.
That may be more transferring than what modern travelers would accept, but at least passengers would be flying in style and comfort.
“People who flew on these back in the day were affluent or business executives that needed to get somewhere. Not so much for the common man back then,” Ross said.
Several of the passengers on a Thursday tour noted that the legroom and seats in the plane are better than what can be found in many modern commercial jets.
There’s also no need to worry about getting a window or aisle seat, as each row only has one seat on either side, allowing everyone to be both by a window and the aisle.
“It’s quite a unique experience. The take-off is short, the landings are like a cushion, very smooth,” said Ross. “Not bragging, that just the way the airplane is.”
However, it is harder on the pilot.
“This is kind of like driving an old truck that doesn’t have power steering. It does what you want, but it’s up to you to make it do it,” Ross said.
The Tri-Motor seats 10 passengers. One of them on the Thursday flight was 94-year-old Marty Morris.
“I loved it! I loved every minute of it,” she said.
Morris had been invited by friends to come on the flight to see her native Elkhart from above for the first time.
“The ride was just fabulous,” she said. “It’s another dimension when you look down on things.
Still, it can be a bit disorienting.
“I was lost - I really didn’t quite know where I was when I was up there. I recognized the river, of course, and also the railroad. Saw a train going on there,” she said.
The public can fly on the airplane Friday-Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $72 for adults and $52 for children under 18 and can be purchased on site at the Elkhart Municipal Airport, 1211 C.R. 6.
Proceeds help the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton, Ohio, and the EAA keep the plane in the air.
Flights take around 15 minutes. For more information, call 800-359-6217.
Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter @ReadRasmus