Ford Trimotor

Ford Trimotor

infobox Aircraft
name = Trimotor
type = Civil transport
manufacturer = Ford

caption =Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Ford 4-AT-E Trimotor "NC8407" c. 2005
designer = William B. Stout
first flight = 11 June 1926 (4-AT)
introduced =
introduction= 1929
retired =
status = 18 in existence as of 2006
primary user = over 100 airlines
more users = United States Army Air Corps United States Marine Corps
United States Navy Royal Canadian Air Force
number built = 199
unit cost = US$42,000 in 1933
developed from = Stout Trimotor
variants with their own articles =
The Ford Trimotor (also variously identified as the "Tri-Motor"), nicknamed "The Tin Goose," was an American three engine civil transport aircraft first produced in 1925 by Henry Ford and continued in production until 7 June 1933. Throughout its lifespan a total of 199 aircraft were produced. It was popular with the military and was sold all over the world. Unlike his famous Ford Model T cars, trucks and farm tractors, Ford did not make the engines for these aircraft.

Design and development

The story of the Ford Trimotor begins with William B. Stout, an engineer who had previously designed several aircraft using principles similar to those of Professor Hugo Junkers, the famous German manufacturer.

Stout, a bold and imaginative salesman, sent a mimeographed form letter to leading manufacturers, blithely asking for $1,000 and adding: "For your one thousand dollars you will get one definite promise: You will never get your money back." Stout raised $20,000, including $1,000 each from Edsel and Henry Ford. [ [ Smithsonian] ]

In the early 1920s Henry Ford, along with a group of 19 other investors including his son Edsel, invested in the Stout Metal Airplane Company. In 1925, Ford bought Stout and its Hugo Junkers-influenced aircraft designs. Ford adapted the traditionally single engined Stout design with three Wright air-cooled radial engines. After a series of test aircraft and a suspicious fire causing the complete destruction of all previous designs, the 4-AT and 5-AT emerged. The Ford Trimotors used an all-metal construction — not a revolutionary concept, but certainly more advanced than the standard construction techniques in the 1920s. The aircraft resembled the Fokker F.VII but it was all metal allowing Ford to claim it was "the safest airliner around." Winchester 2004, p. 151.] Its fuselage and wings were constructed of aluminum and corrugated for added strength although the incipient drag reduced overall performance. This has become something of a trademark for the Trimotor. Transcontinental Air Transport, which later became part of Trans World Airlines, used the aircraft to begin its transcontinental air service from San Diego to New York in 1929.

Although mainly designed primarily for passenger use, the Trimotor's fuselage could be easily adapted for cargo hauling. One unusual feature was the provision of "drop down" cargo holds in the lower inner wing sections of the 5-AT variant.

One 4-AT with Wright J-4 200 hp engines was built for the Army Air Corps as type C-3, and seven with Wright R-790-3 (235 hp) as type C-3A. The latter were upgraded to Wright R-975-1 (J6-9) radials at 300 hp and redesignated C-9. Five 5-ATs were built as C-4 or C-4A.

The original (commercial production) 4-AT had three air cooled Wright radial engines. It carried a crew of three: pilot, co-pilot and stewardess as well as eight or nine passengers (up to 12 passengers could be accommodated in special configurations). The later 5-AT had more powerful Pratt & Whitney engines. All models had aluminum corrugated sheet metal body and wings. However, unlike many aircraft of this era, extending through World War II and later, the aircraft control surfaces were not fabric covered, but were of corrugated aluminum. As was common for the time, the rudder and elevator were controlled by wires that were strung along the external surface of the aircraft. Similarly, engine gauges were mounted externally, on the engines, to be read by the pilot looking through the windscreen. Another anachronism was the use of the hand-operated "Johnny Brake."

Like his cars and tractors, these Ford aircraft were well designed, relatively inexpensive, and reliable (for the era). The combination of metal structure and simple systems lead to a reputation for ruggedness. Rudimentary servicing could be accomplished "in the field" with ground crew able to work on engines using scaffolding and platforms. Winchester 2004, p. 150.] In order to fly into normally inaccessible sites, the Ford Trimotor could be fitted with skis and floats.

The rapid development of aircraft at this time (the vastly superior Douglas DC-2 was first conceived in 1932), along with the death of his personal pilot, Harry Brooks on a test flight led to Henry Ford losing interest in aviation. While Ford did not make a profit on its aircraft business, Ford's reputation lent credibility to the infant aviation industry, and Ford helped introduce many aspects of the modern aviation infrastructure, including paved runways, passenger terminals, hangars, airmail, and radio navigation.Herrick, Greg A. [ "The Amazing Story of America's Oldest Flying Airliner".] Jackson, Wyoming: Yellowstone Aviation, Inc., 2004. Retrieved: 1 October 2006. Note: This 28-page booklet describes the history of the Ford Trimotor 4-AT-10, C-1077, a.k.a. G-CARC "Niagara." It also describes the restoration process and some general history of Ford's Trimotor as well as his aviation enterprises.]

In the late 1920s, the Ford Aircraft Division was reputedly the "largest manufacturer of commercial airplanes in the world." Head and Pretzer 1990, p. 53.] Alongside the Ford Trimotor, a new one-passenger commuter aircraft, the Ford Flivver or "Sky Flivver" had been designed and flown in prototype form but never entered series production. The Trimotor was not to be Ford's last venture in aircraft production. During World War II, he built the largest aircraft manufacturing plant in the world at the Willow Run, Michigan plant and assembled thousands of B-24 Liberator bombers under license from Consolidated Aircraft.Head and Pretzer 1990, p. 57.]

Operational history

A total of 199 Ford Trimotors were built between 1926 and 1933, including 79 of the 4-AT variant, and 117 of the 5-AT variant, plus some experimental craft. Well over 100 airlines of the world flew the Ford Trimotor.

The impact of the Ford Trimotor on commercial aviation was immediate, as the design represented a "quantum leap over other airlners." O'Leary 2006, p. 54.] Within a few months of its introduction, Transcontinental Air Transport was created to provide a coast-to-coast operation, capitalizing on the Trimotor's ability to provide reliable and for the time, comfortable passenger service. While advertised as a transcontinental service, the airline had to rely on rail connections with a deluxe Pullman train that would be based in New York being the first part of the journey. Passengers then rendezvoued with a Trimotor in Port Columbus, Ohio, that would begin a hop across the continent ending at Wynoka, Oklahoma where another train would take the passengers to Clovis, New Mexico where the final journey would begin, again on a Trimotor, to end up at the Grand Central Air Terminal in Los Angeles.

The gruelling trip would only be available for a year before Transcontental was merged into a combine with Western Air Service. Ford Trimotors were also used extensively by Pan American Airlines, extending service from North America into Central and South America during the same period. O'Leary 2006, p. 55.] The heyday for Ford's transport was relatively brief, lasting only until 1933 when more modern airliners began to appear. Rather than completely disappearing, the Trimotors gained an enviable reputation for durability with Ford Ads in 1929 proclaiming, "No Ford plane has yet worn out in service." First being relegated to second and third tier airlines, the Trimotors continued to fly into the 1960s, with numerous examples being converted into cargo transports to further lengthen their careers and when World War II began, the commercial versions were soon modified for military applications.

Some of the significant flights made by the Ford Trimotor in this period greatly enhanced the reputation of the type for strength and reliability. One example is of Ford 4-AT Trimotor serial number 10, built in 1927. It flew in the United States and Mexico under registration number C-1077, and for several years in Canada under registration "G-CARC". It had many notable accomplishments; it was flown by Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart among many others. It made the first commercial flight from the United States to Mexico City, and the first commercial flight over the Canadian Rockies. After damage on landing in 1936, it was grounded and remained for decades at Carcross, Yukon. In 1956, the wreck was salvaged and preserved, and in the mid 1980s Greg Herrick took over C-1077 and began restoring it. As of 2006, C-1077 is in flying condition again, restored to its December 1927 appearance.

Making headlines became a Trimotor trademark. Between 27 November and 28 November 1929, Admiral Richard E. Byrd and his crew made the first flight over the South Pole in a Ford Trimotor called "Floyd Bennett" (one of three aircraft on the expedition, the others being "The Stars and Stripes" and "The Virginian"), replacing the Fokker Trimotors Byrd previously used.

Franklin Roosevelt also flew aboard a Ford Trimotor in 1932 during his presidential campaign in one of the first uses of an aircraft in an election, replacing the traditional "whistle stop" train trips.Larkins 1992, p. 170.]

In postwar years, the Ford Trimotors continued in limited service with small, regional air carriers. One of the most famous was the Scenic Airways Ford Trimotor N414H which was used for 65 years as a sightseeing aircraft flying over the Grand Canyon. Characteristically, the aircraft is still in use as of 2008, mainly for promotional and film work.


As of 2008, there are 18 Ford Trimotors in existence, six of which are flyable.Wiggins, Arthur B. [ "Ford Tri-Motor List".], 2006. Retrieved: 30 April 2008. Note: This is an enthusiast's register of existing Ford Trimotors, Bushmasters and Stinson Trimotors.] The oldest flying Trimotor is Greg Herrick's 1927 4AT-A, Serial No. 4, C-1077. Herrick, Greg. [ "Ford Tri-motor 4-AT-10, C-1077, a.k.a G-CARC "Niagara."] Jackson, Wyoming: Yellowstone Aviation, Inc., 2004. Retrieved: 1 October 2006.] It is based at the Golden Wings Museum [ [ Golden Wings Museum ] ] near Minneapolis, Minnesota.N8407 (4ATE, 1929) is based at the EAA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and tours the United States. [ [ EAA AirVenture Museum - Ford Tri-Motor Bookings ] ] N9645 (5ATB, 1929) is based at Evergreen Vintage Aircraft, Inc., McMinnville, Oregon.N414H, N9612 and N9651 are also flyable.

Non-flying examples are on display in museums, including the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum [ [ National Air and Space Museum, America by Air Gallery] ] in Washington, D.C.; the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan; the Henry Ford Museum, and the San Diego Air & Space Museum [ [ SDAM - Welcome to the San Diego Air & Space Museum ] ] in San Diego, California.


In 1954, in an attempt to modernize the design, Bill Stout purchased the design rights to the original Trimotor. Due to "Ford Tri-Motor" licensing problems, the Ford 15-AT-D was renamed the Stout Bushmaster 2000. O'Callaghan 2002, p. 124.] The Bushmaster featured more powerful engines, enlarged cockpit windows, a lighter and stronger aluminum-alloy skin, a foot-operated hydraulic replacement of the old Trimotor's hand-operated "Johnny Brake," a larger stabilizer and a dorsal fin to reduce yaw, modern trim tabs and interior rather than exterior control cables. [,9171,843204,00.html "Return of the Tin Goose."] "Time" 6 January 1967. Retrieved: 29 July 2008.]

On 15 January 1955, Stout and partner Robert Hayden from the Hayden Aircraft Corporation announced they were planning to build 1,000 new Bushmasters. However, with financial, management and marketing problems, only two examples were initially built with a third fuselage never completed. The first Bushmaster, N7501V was assembled in 1966 and is presently owned by Greg Herrick and based near Minneapolis. The second aircraft N750RW was completed 18 January 1985 by Ralph Williams, the President of Hydro-Forming in Long Beach, CA (subsequently this aircraft was written off in an accident at Fullerton Municipal Airport, California on 25 September 2004).

Commercial operators

*American Airlines
*Cubana (Cuba)
*Czechoslovak Airlines (Czechoslovakia)
* Dominicana de Aviación, Dominican Republic airline flew Ford Trimotors in the early 1930s. [ [ Fly Dominican Republic / Ford Trimotor Videos.] ]
*Grand Canyon Airlines
*Mexicana (Mexico)
*Pan American World Airways
*SACO (Colombia)
*SCADTA (Colombia)
*Transcontinental Air Transport
*Trans World Airlines
*Wien Air Alaska
*United Airlines

Military operators

; AUS :Royal Australian Air Force
*No. 24 Squadron RAAF ;CAN:Royal Canadian Air Force;COL:Colombian Air Force;ESP:Spanish Air Force;UK:Royal Air Force
*No. 271 Squadron RAF;USA:United States Army Air Corps :United States Marine Corps :United States Navy

pecifications (Ford Trimotor)

aircraft specification

plane or copter?=plane
jet or prop?=prop
crew=3 ( 1 Flight attendant)
capacity=Eight passengers

  • Cost: US$42,000 in 1933
    length main= 50 ft 3 in
    length alt= 15.32 m
    span main= 77 ft 10 in
    span alt= 23.72 m
    height main= 12 ft 8 in
    height alt= 3.86 m
    area main= 835 ft²
    area alt= 77.6 m²
    empty weight main=7,840 lb
    empty weight alt=3,560 kg
    loaded weight main=10,130 lb
    loaded weight alt=4,590 kg
    max takeoff weight main=13,500 lb
    max takeoff weight alt=6,120 kg)
  • Fuel capacity: 230 US gal (886 L)
  • Fuel consumption: 45 US gal/h (173 L/h)
    engine (prop)=Pratt & Whitney Wasp C
    type of prop=9-cylinder radial engines
    number of props=3
    power main=420 hp
    power alt=313 kW
    max speed main= 150 mph
    max speed alt= 241 km/h, 130 kts
    cruise speed main= 90 mph
    cruise speed alt= 145 km/h, 78 kts
    stall speed main=64 mph
    stall speed alt=103 km/h, 56 kts
    range main=550 mi
    range alt=885 km, 478 nm
    ceiling main=18,500 ft
    ceiling alt=5,640 m
    climb rate main=ft/min
    climb rate alt=m/s
    loading main=16.17 lb/ft²
    loading alt=78.87 kg/m²
    power/mass main=10.71 lb/hp
    power/mass alt=6.52 kg/kW

    Popular culture

    * Director Howard Hawks' "Only Angels Have Wings" 1939 features a Trimotor that catches fire after a freak accident with a condor eventually performing an emergency landing on an airfield. A real and a model Trimotor were used for the sequence.
    * The aircraft is featured in the Clive Cussler book "Iceberg (novel)" (1975) and used by character Dirk Pitt for a rescue operation. The Trimotor is also in Cussler's book "Valhalla Rising" (2001).
    * The movie "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" 1984 depicts a flight and crash of a Ford Trimotor.
    * The Ford Trimotor is available in many different color schemes in the popular computer game. It has a brilliant simulation of the aircraft's aerodynamics and cockpit controls. It is, however, regarded as a difficult aircraft to fly, as the player cannot see over the front engine.

    ee also

    *Rattlesnake Island (Lake Erie), where a private mail service used a Ford Trimotor for delivery from 1966 to 1989.

    Related content

    *Ford XB-906
    similar aircraft=
    *Fokker F.VII
    *Junkers G 24
    *Junkers G.31
    *Hamilton H-45
    *List of airliners
    *List of military aircraft of the United States
    *List of military aircraft of the United States (naval)
    see also=




    * Head, Jeanine M. and William S. Pretzer. " Henry Ford: A Pictorial Biography". Dearborn, Michigan: Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, 1990. No ISBN.
    * Larkins, William T. "The Ford Tri-Motor, 1926-1992". Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 1992. ISBN 0-88740-416-2.
    * O'Callaghan, Timothy J. "The Aviation Legacy of Henry & Edsel Ford". Ann Arbor, Michigan: Proctor Publications, 2002. ISBN 1-92862-301-8.
    * O'Leary, Michael. "When Fords Ruled the Sky (Part Two)." "Air Classics", Volume 42, No. 5, May 2006.
    * Weiss, David A. "The Saga of the Tin Goose: The Story of the Ford Trimotor". Brooklyn, New York: Cumberland Enterprises, Incorporated, 1996. ISBN 0-96342-992-2.
    * Winchester, Jim, ed. "Ford Trimotor". "Civil Aircraft" (The Aviation Factfile). London: Grange Books plc, 2004. ISBN 1-84013-642-1.

    External links

    * [ Ford Trimotors This web site created by Scott A. Lowe, is "a tribute to the Ford Tri-Motor", and contains facts, pictures, bibliography and more.]
    * [ Detail photos—1929 Ford 4-AT-E Tri-Motor]
    * [ Cockpit audio from a ride in the right seat of the EAA's Ford Trimotor]

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