LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. - The 1929 Ford Tri-Motor is considered to be the world's first true passenger airliner, and this weekend you have the opportunity to take a flight as travelers did more than 80 years ago. The flight lasts about 15-20 minutes with pilot John Maxfield at the controls.
Maxfield has been a volunteer pilot for Tri-Motors for the past two years, but remembers when he was a kid growing up near where the planes were built in Dearborn, Michigan.
"Henry Ford built these airliners to start the airline business," said Maxfield. "This particular one was Eastern Air Transports first airplane, which then became Eastern Airlines."
According to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Web site, the 1929 Ford Tri-Motor was also leased to Cubana Airlines, where it inaugurated air service between Havana and Santiago de Cuba. The airplane was later flown by the government of the Dominican Republic. After that, it was used in aerial firefighting and in the 1950's was modified for use by smoke jumpers.
Maxfield said in the 1970's the plane was damaged in a windstorm in Wisconsin. That's when the EAA bought it, restored it and began giving tours 1,000 feet in the sky. The 10,000 pound plane is made of metal and has radial engines, all the instruments panels are as they were when the plane was built 1929, the only real difference, a GPS in the corner.
"Relative comfort for back in the day, they would seat anywhere from 9 to 11 people with a restroom and flight attendant," said Maxfield.
When the plane was used in cross-country travel, there were several stops for fuel and service along the way said Maxfield. He said passengers would take a sleeper car train overnight and then hook up with another Tri-Motor plane to finish coast-to-coast travel.
The public flight lasts about 15-20 minutes and is open to all ages. The tours run Sept. 13-15 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m at the Lee's Summit Municipal Airport, for more information, click on this link.