Monday, June 11, 2012

Those Magnificent Men

We're going off topic today. No food. No farming. Just one fantastic flying machine:

Meet the Ford Tri-Motor airplane a.k.a., the Tin Goose. Born in 1929 and manufactured by Ford--yes, that Ford Motor Company--this aircraft was the first all-enclosed passenger plane. Although its flying speed of 90mph isn't much by today's standards, it was a huge improvement over traveling by car on dirt roads at speeds of 30mph. And it was much better than flying in an open-cockpit bi-plane. So why the interest in this plane? It was in Asheville over the weekend courtesy of the Experimental Aircraft Association and I got to take a ride.

This particular plane started as a passenger plane for Eastern Airlines, then did service in Cuba during the 1930s when the Great Depression curtailed demand for passenger plane travel in the US. It later saw service back in the US hauling smoke jumpers to fight forest fires out west. The EAA bought the plane in the 1970s and restored it to its former glory, complete with leather seats and intricate wooden inlays on the cabin walls. With air travel being such a chore these days, I couldn't resist the chance to get a glimpse of what it might have been in the glamour days.

As the daughter of a pilot, I've always loved flying. Dad needed to log a certain number of hours every year to keep his license current, so when he wasn't giving flight lessons to students, he'd just go up on his own. And if I was lucky, he'd take me along for the ride. I probably didn't go as often as I think I did but the sense memory of flying is so strong in me, it's as if I did it all the time. Even though we always flew small, modern aircraft like the one below, I found myself really craving the chance to fly vintage.

Probably it was the indoctrination into the cult of vintage aircraft which I received at an early age when accompanying my father to the EAA Fly-In in Oshkosh, WI. We'd spend hours going up and down the rows of vintage planes with my dad telling me in loving detail about which ones he'd flown. I had a particular fondness for the Curtiss Jenny. Maybe because it was bright yellow or maybe something about the long, slender fuselage caught my eye. I hope it wasn't just 'cause it had a girl's name. Anyhow, turns out, I still get a thrill from a good-looking plane.

Something about the way the plane pivots about on it's rear wheel when turning is so damn graceful that it makes me forgive the plane's tin can exterior. Built for power, the mighty engines on this craft got the plane aloft in a ridiculously short span of time and length of runway.

I managed to snag the seat directly behind the pilot. One lucky guy got to sit in the co-pilot's seat but the other seven of us all had window seats in the main cabin. Yes, we did have to have the FAA-mandated safety lecture before leaving the ground. No tray tables to stow, but we did have to fasten seatbelts and be informed about the location of the fire extinguisher and the escape hatch in the cockpit.

Our 20-minute flight took us over Asheville and gave some stunning views of the town and surrounding mountains. I kept finding my eyes going to the cockpit to marvel at the arrangement of the controls e.g., the switch for starting the engines was underneath the co-pilot's seat. There was also the bright blue Ford logo on the controls that just made me smile because it seemed so out of place.

The pictures don't do justice to the views we had that day. Clouds were coming in and it was getting a bit hazy so you'll have to take my word for how vibrant the colors were. Our pilot made sure we had a good look or three at the Biltmore Estate:

And a gander at historic McCormick field, home to the Asheville Tourists. Fans of the film Bull Durham may know this as the place where Crash hit that dinger that let him finally retire from the game.

AB-Tech Community College and my classroom building (Rhododendron) down in front.

Downtown with the red-roofed Grove Park Inn nestled in the mountains toward the back of the picture:

And what's a beautiful day in Asheville without a bunch of kayakers out on the French Broad?

In trying to get a shot of the plane's interior, I managed to capture the demographic profile of Asheville: equal parts retiree and hipster.

Back on the ground, we got to observe the refueling process which gives self-serve a whole new meaning:

Magnificent. I highly recommend the experience if you ever get to Oshkosh, WI or the tin goose makes a trip to your town.

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