Tin Goose: Vintage 1929 Ford Tri-Motor airplane lifts Florida passengers on short jaunts

11:30 AM, Jan 28, 2014   |    comments
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A Vintage 1929 Ford Tri-Motor 4-AT-E-NC8407 aircraft that is billed as the first airliner makes a stop at the Merritt Island airport Monday afternoon as it continues on a tour offering rides


MERRITT ISLAND, FL (Florida Today) -- Wolfgang Lau has flown thousands of hours as an airline pilot.

But on Monday afternoon, he was a passenger in the back of a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor as it flew over Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral and Merritt Island.

The Ford Tri-Motor, nicknamed the "Tin Goose," was the world's first mass-produced commercial aircraft. The plane, owned by the Experimental Aircraft Association, is scheduled to fly passengers today and tomorrow for short flights from Merritt Island Airport, as it continues touring Florida.

More info: Fly in a Ford Tri-Motor!

It's next stop will be at the Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport from January 30 - February 2.

"It was wonderful," Lau said after his flight. "I have 28,000 hours as a pilot in command, but this is still fun to step back in history."

Lau, a retired Southwest Airlines pilot and his wife, Susan, a flight attendant for the airline, said they could not pass up the opportunity to fly on the historic aircraft.

"It was nice to be part of history," Susan Lau said. "I especially liked his briefing. It is similar to what I have to do at work."

The aircraft took off with 10 passengers for a flight that went from Merritt Island across the Banana River, along Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral and back to Merritt Island on a flight that took a little more than 20 minutes.

Passengers constantly snapped pictures of the scenery and of themselves during the smooth flight in the 84-year-old plane.

Chief pilot Cody Welch said the Ford Tri-Motor was extremely significant to aviation history in the United States.

"Commercial aviation as we know it today is thanks to Ford," he said. "It was the first mass-produced airline. It's what got all of our airlines started.

The 1929 Tri-Motor visiting Merritt Island first flew Aug. 21, 1929. Painted in the color scheme of the old Eastern Airlines, itwas that airline's first plane. It then went on to become the first airplane of Cubana Airlines before being sent to Dominican Republic, where it served the government.

After damage during a thunderstorm in 1973, EAA founder Paul Poberezny bought the aircraft, which underwent a 12-year restoration. Following service as a crop duster and in aerial firefighting, it returned to flying passengers in 1991. It is kept at the AirVenture Museum at Pioneer Airport in Oshkosh, Wis.

The aircraft has appeared in two major movies: 1965's "The Family Jewels" with Jerry Lewis and 2009's "Public Enemies" with Johnny Depp.

"I always wanted to fly in it," said Jim Soldini, 71, of Palm Bay.

Soldini couldn't wait to get on the Ford Tri-Motor as his wife, Annette Soldini, snapped photos.

"When I was 16, my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday," Soldani said. "I said I wanted to fly in a DC-3."

The airplane, which has been on tours across the United States, came to Merritt Island for the first time Monday, landing to the cheers of aircraft enthusiasts.

Miguel Salas, a student pilot from Ecuador at Pan Am International Flight Academy on Merritt Island, stopped to snap photos.

"It's amazing," he said. "It think it's a strong airplane."

Passengers applauded at the end of their flight and left saying they had enjoyed it.

"We put smiles on faces every single time," Welch said. "There is always a historic connection."

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