Flying history visits county airport

Published 3:43 pm Thursday, May 17, 2012

Visitors get a close-up look at a Ford Tri-Motor Airliner during an event at the Shelby County Airport on May 17. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

One of the pioneers of modern commercial air travel touched down at the Shelby County Airport on May 17, giving local residents a chance to experience what it was like to fly in the late 1920s.

A 1929 Ford Tri-Motor plane restored by the Experimental Aircraft Association landed at the Shelby County Airport during its first tour of the South, and will offer rides at the airport through Sunday, May 20. The visit is sponsored by the Shelby County chapter of the EAA.

Flights on the plane will be available on Thursday, May 17 from 2-5 p.m., and on May 18-20 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Flights are $80, or $125 to ride in the plane’s front seat.

The vintage Ford Tri-Motor airliner flies over Shelby County from the airport on May 17. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

The Tri-Motor airplane features three 450-horsepower engines, and served as a commercial airliner in the late 1920s and early1930s. It helped fight forest fires in Idaho and Montana in the 1940s, and toured around the country offering rides to the public in the 1960s and early 1970s.

EAA restored the eight-passenger plane over a 12-year period after it was heavily damaged in a storm in 1973.

The plane’s volunteer pilot, Rand Siegfried, said the airplane helped to launch America’s passenger airline industry and gave people a much quicker way to get from place to place.

“Airplanes like this really launched passenger service. Before this, people only thought you could make money by flying the mail,” Siegfried said.

Siegfried said the plane’s passenger area was designed to mimic the look of train cars of the day. In addition to leather seats, the aluminum-bodied plane featured large windows, wood accents and reading lights for each passenger.

“Everything in this plane was geared toward the passenger,” Siegfried said, noting the Tri-Motor at the Shelby County airport was one of only five or six in the world still flying. “

Siegfried said he does not view piloting the plane all over the country as “work.”

“I’m very glad to be here. This is an amazing job,” he said. “I’m getting to show off a piece of history.”