This weekend, Idaho Falls residents will have the chance to fly in one of the planes that helped usher in modern air travel.
The Ford Tri-Motor 5-AT, which first flew in 1928, was one of the first airplanes designed with the needs of human passengers in mind. Henry Ford of Ford Motor Company fame had the idea to build the plane, hoping to design something that was comfortable to ride in and felt safer and more reassuring to a public that was still getting used to the idea of air travel.
“(Ford) said, ‘Let’s build an airplane designed around people,’” said Rand Siegfried.
Siegfried, who lives in Sausalito, Calif., has been flying for 45 years, starting when his father, who was a commercial pilot, taught him as a child. He has flown the Tri-Motor at several stops on this tour, and this weekend he is in Idaho Falls, giving people flights on the plane out of the Idaho Falls Regional Airport.
The Ford Tri-Motor Tour, which has been organized by the Experimental Aircraft Association, is working its way across the country. It will head to Casper, Wyo. next, then make stops further east. When it isn’t touring, the plane’s home is the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton, Ohio.
People interested in taking a flight in the plane around the Idaho Falls area can go to the Aero Mark building at the airport (make the last right off International Way before you reach the end of the road) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Tickets are $52 for children 17 and under, while adult tickets are $72 in advance and $77 for walk-ins.
When the plane first came out, Siegfried said, it was part of a trans-continental route whereby people could travel from New Jersey to Long Beach, Calif., alternating between flying and taking a train on different stretches of the route. The plane has large windows, comfortable seats and is made of corrugated aluminum, and at the time it stood in contrast to the much smaller and fabric-covered planes people would have been familiar with.
“It’s comfortable in bumpy weather because we go slow enough,” Siegfried said. “It’s like driving down a bumpy road slowly.”
The plane cruises at 80 mph. The 450 horsepower, 985 cubic inch engine consumes about a gallon of fuel a minute. Siegfried joked it sounds a lot like a Harley.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said.