Old Timer

1928 Ford Tri-Motor 5-AT-B will fly from the Evansville Wartime Museum.

Those with an appreciation of the Roaring ’20s can find some inspiration in a plane like the 1928 Ford Tri-Motor 5-AT-B, known as the first luxury airliner, which has been flight ready since its inaugural flight on Dec. 1, 1928.

The plane would go on to help shape the future of air travel. Only 199 Ford Tri-Motor aircraft were made and fewer than 10 fly still today. One will visit the Evansville Wartime Museum this weekend starting April 13.

“You don’t have to be an aviation enthusiast to appreciate a plane like this,” says Drew Stephani, communications specialist with the Experimental Aircraft Association, who is sponsoring the plane’s Tri-State visit.

Ford Tri-Motor 5AT statics in Port Clinton, Ohio. Photo provided by the Experimental Aircraft Association and taken by Jason Toney.

On July 7, 1929, under the ownership of Transcontinental Air Transport, it inaugurated westbound transcontinental commercial air service with the nickname “City of Wichita.” The plane changed owners several times over the past 95 years and developed several nicknames, including “Tin Goose,” a general nickname for Ford Tri-Motors, and “the smooth-skin Ford,” after its corrugated skin was replaced with flat sheet metal in 1951.

That corrugated skin was eventually restored. In 1971, it flew again under the ownership of William F. Harrah of Harrah’s Hotel and Casinos in Nevada, after more than a decade in storage following an accident in January 1954. It was under Harrah’s ownership until his death in 1986.

The last restoration of the aircraft was in 1996 before it was acquired by Ed Patrick and the Liberty Aviation Museum of Port Clinton, Ohio, from Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum of McMinnville, Oregon, in 2014.

The Liberty Aviation Museum sought to ensure the aircraft was tour-ready, a difficult task considering many parts and materials used for the original aircraft were from the 1920s and 1930s. Currently, the plane is on lease to the EAA, who partnered with the Evansville Wartime Museum to bring it to the River City.

“The upkeep is a challenge, but it is all worth it for us,” Stephani says.

Ford Tri-Motor 5AT statics in Port Clinton, Ohio. Photo provided by the Experimental Aircraft Association and taken by Jason Toney.

It travels across the country and hosts 15-minute flights with 10 passengers at a time in its window-only seats for around three days before moving on to the next location.

This 1920s aircraft will be in Evansville April 13-16. Flight tickets are $85 for adult members of the museum and $95 for non-members, while children 17 and younger can fly for $65. Proceeds help cover the aircraft’s maintenance and operations costs so it can soar for years to come.

1920s In The Sky
EAA: eaa.org/shop/flights/flytheford.aspx
EVV Wartime Museum: evansvillewartimemuseum.org

Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti joined Tucker Publishing Group in September 2022 as a staff writer. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2020 with a bachelors degree in English. A Connecticut native, Maggie has ridden horses for 15 years and has hunt seat competition experience on the East Coast.

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