HOUSTON – Three-engine airplanes went out with snapped brim fedoras, but one of the few still flying is visiting Houston this weekend, offering everyone the chance to feel what it’s like to soar aboard an 89-year-old icon.
It was called the “tin goose” and the “flying washboard.”
It is the plane that gave birth to commercial aviation in America, the Ford Tri Motor.
It was first introduced in 1926 as the vision of Henry Ford, who wanted three engines so passengers would feel safe if one of them quit.
One hundred ninety-nine Ford Tri Motors were built, but only about eight are still flying.
One, owned by the Experimental Aviation Association of Wisconsin, is visiting Houston this weekend at West Houston Airport, where enthusiasts were lining Thursday up to take 15-minute rides.
“This is a special machine. This has a lot of history," Larry Keast said while waiting to board.
The plane is built of wood and corrugated aluminum.
It’s range is only about 300 miles, but that was enough to launch commercial air travel in America. Every commercial airline today traces it’s DNA to the old tri-motor.
When the plane was first introduced it was high technology and high style, offering one-way passage from New York to Chicago for a then substantial $75.
What stands out for a modern traveler is how loud the cabin is with the wing mounted engines just a little more than an arm’s length from the passenger seats.
The plane doesn’t zip through air so much as it waddles, with a cruising speed of only about about 110 mph.
Pilot Steve Lambrick said it’s more like driving a truck than a sports car.
"It’s a pleasure to fly. It’s a different challenge. Not light and nimble or sporty, you’re working it,” Lambrick said.
The Ford Tri Motor dominated the air for less than a decade before better, faster planes came along.
Even though it flew into history long ago, something about it still speaks to enthusiasts.
“I’ve had so many people say that’s the best thing I’ve ever done or that was a bucket list item. It’s always fun because they always get excited to be here,” Lambrick said.
If it speaks to you, the plane will be at West Houston Airport through Sunday. Rides are $70 for adults, $50 for kids under 17.