The Transylvania Times -

'Tin Goose' Still Soars


October 9, 2017

Matt McGregor

The Tin Goose flew in and out of Asheville this past weekend.

Though the 1928 Ford Tri-Motor aircraft, also called the "Tin Goose," is no time machine, the pilot and passengers agreed the 30-minute ride on the first commercial aircraft and mass-produced airliner gets close enough.

"It's a wild experience," said Bill Thacker, the pilot, who started flying airplanes at 16 before piloting commercial jets, and is now flying for the Experimental Aircraft Association (EEA), based in Oshkosh, Wis. "It really takes you back to 1928, and this plane is essentially what birthed air travel."

Being the first plane designed to have groups of passengers, he said airlines today owe their existence to this plane.

"Every plane today started with the Tri-Motor," he said. "But it really only lasted in the U.S. for a short time, with Henry Ford starting production beginning in '25. Then with the stock market crash in '29, he retracted and went back to building cars, having invested a lot in the Ford Model A car, but other companies had already started leveraging technology found in this original commercial jet, and frankly, they were a lot faster."

Now owned by the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton, Ohio, and leased to the EEA, an 180,000-member organization of aviation enthusiasts, the plane is showcased by the EEA in different states year-round.

The 1928 Ford Tri-Motor was at the Asheville Regional Airport on Thursday through Sunday to be showcased, as well as to give 30-minute flight tours to anyone interested in taking a ride. Tickets to fly were $75. This particular plane began its journey in January 1929 and was given the name "City of Wichita."

"Its home and root flight was in Wichita (Kan.), and it introduced the first coast-to-coast passenger air service in '29," Thacker said.

The plane has changed hands throughout its 89 years circling the globe.

According to the EEA, the plane was sold to Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) in 1929 (the logo is currently painted on the body of the craft).

In 1931, TAT merged with Western Air Express (WAE), the flight service contracted by the U.S. Postal Service to deliver mail in 1925, and that merger formed the Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA).

It was with TWA that the plane's use led to the construction of the first paved runway and hotel designed specifically to accommodate air travel, and the TWA's flight system.

American businessman Howard Hughes once owned TWA, and the airline filed for bankruptcy and was usurped by American Airlines in 2001.

In 1935, the plane was sold to Grand Canyon Airlines, an air carrier headquartered in Boulder City Airport in Boulder City, Nev., then to Boulder Dam Tours in 1937.

The plane was later sold to several different airlines in South America throughout the 1940s, and it made its way back to a company in the U.S. in 1955, where it stayed until it was purchased by William F. Harrah of Harrah's Hotel and Casino in 1964, where the plane underwent renovations.

After renovations, it flew again in Reno, Nev., in 1971, and then became apart of Harrah's automobile collection.

After Harrah's death, it was auctioned off and purchased in 1986 by Gary Norton of Idaho, and in 1990, Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Ore. acquired the plane, where it was once again renovated.

Finally, in 2014, the Liberty Aviation Museum made the plane its new home.

Neville Marcellin, a pilot for American Airline Regional, also called American Eagle, flew into the Asheville Regional Airport from Charlotte and saw the Ford Tri-Motor behind him, and he said he knew he had to ride in it.

"This is a part of history," he said, "especially on a day like today when you can look out the window and see Western North Carolina below. As a pilot, I don't get to look around that much."

Marcellin grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and started working on planes as an Air Frame and Power plant mechanic. One of the first engines he worked on was the Pratt and Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior, which powers The Ford Tri-Motor.

"I got my A and P license working on this engine in high school, so I started from the ground up, then getting my avionics technician license, my flight engineers license, pilot commercial license and finally my airline transport pilot license," Marcellin said. "So, this is really important for me to ride in this plane, and to see what where we've come from, to where we are now is amazing, and it's amazing to see a plane like this kept up in this condition."

John Bennett heard about the plane's visit from his friend Chad Buckingham, who works at Signature Flight Support, a private and business aviation operation that provides fueling and maintenance within the Asheville Regional Airport.

Matt McGregor

Bennet said he's studying aviation at Asheville-Buncombe Community College, so they and Buckingham's brother, Chad, all cancelled their afternoon plans to fly.

"It's a blast from the past," Bennet said. "It's loud, lots of vibration, much louder than a commercial flight. I really enjoyed it."

Chad said it was a "surreal" experience.

"It was nothing like any other flight I have ever been on," Chad said. "Loud, bumpy and very exciting."

Chad's brother, Richard, stood behind Chad and Bennett in a Star Wars T-shirt.

He said he came because Chad had asked him to come.

"I'm just his brother, and he's super into planes, and I didn't know if he had anyone to go with, so I came," Richard said, "but honestly, I would have rather ridden on the Millennium Falcon."


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