Charles Linbergh flew in one, as did Amelia Earhart, Franklin Roosevelt and Indiana Jones.
So it was especially thrilling for local aviation enthusiasts when one of the last remaining 1929 Ford Tri-Motor airplanes made a special appearance at Summit Airport north of Middletown last week.
“I told my boss I’d be leaving work early today so I could come see this beauty,” said Wilmington resident Chip Snowden. “My father used to talk about flying in one of these, so getting to see one in person is wonderful. Getting a chance to fly in one is unbelievable.”
Snowden was among the roughly 90 people who gladly paid $75 to take a 12-minute jaunt over New Castle County aboard one of the world’s first mass-produced airliners.
“I’ve been flying for 42 years and this was a total thrill for me,” Smyrna resident Linda Berl said after disembarking from the vintage aircraft, affectionately known as the Tin Goose. “It’s everything from the sound of the engine, to the feel of going slow and low to having the window ports open and feeling the air come in. It was just fantastic.”
The Ford Tri-Motors appearance at Summit Airport was made possible thanks to the new Middletown chapter of the Experimental Aviation Association (EAA), an international organization of airplane lovers perhaps best known for holding the largest annual general aviation event in the world each summer in Oshkosh, Wisc..
“EAA has two to these Ford Tri-Motors and each year they send them out on tours throughout the country and this year we were lucky enough to schedule a visit,” explained chapter president Tom Finch, who works as a detective in the Middletown Police Department when he’s not flying planes. “Our goal is to raise awareness of the chapter and, hopefully, promote aviation to young kids.”
Through various donations – including support from Dover Downs, Willis Ford and North East Aviation – EAA was able to offer free flights on the Ford Tri-Motor to more than a dozen children living at the Elizabeth W. Murphey School in Dover and families staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Wilmington.
“We had hoped to get a lot more people on board, but unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate and we had to cancel flights scheduled for Monday and Tuesday,” Finch said. “We’re hoping they’re willing to come back next year so we can make it up to the people who had pre-purchased tickets to fly on those days.”
Madison Gregory was one of the fortunate passengers who managed to get a seat on one of the Ford Tri-Motor’s 10 flights on Wednesday.
Page 2 of 2 - “It was really cool,” the 7-year-old Clayton resident said. “My favorite part was when you go down the runway real fast.”
Colin Soucy, a Delta Airlines pilot who is flying the Tin Goose throughout its 2-month, 11-state voyage, said it’s a joy to introduce so many people to the antique airplane.
“It has big comfortable seats and big picture windows that are perfect for sightseeing,” he said. “But the best part is that all the passengers get off with a smile.”