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Ford Trimotor flies into museum's collection

Tom Jackson • Jul 10, 2014 at 7:51 PM


An important part of Ohio's aviation history flew into Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport Wednesday night.

The "City of Wichita," a Ford Trimotor that flew for an early airline inaugurated in 1929 with the help of aviation hero Charles Lindberg, is the newest possession of Liberty Aviation Museum. It will be stationed at the museum, although it's expected to spend much of its time participating in air shows to promote the museum.

Museum officials said they plan to lease the aircraft to the Experimental Aircraft Association, which will fly it to air shows. 

“The acquisition of this aircraft fulfills one of our long-range plans for the Liberty Aviation Museum, to have two Ford Tri-Motors at the museum,” said Ed Patrick, CEO of the Museum. “Our ultimate goal is to always have one of the Fords permanently based at Port Clinton, while the second aircraft is on tour throughout the country.”

Volunteers are assembling and restoring a second Ford Trimotor at the museum. The aircraft is still in pieces, and Patrick said he can't offer a timetable for completion. 

Liberty Aviation bought the "City of Wichita" for $1.5 million from  the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Ore. It began its journey to Port Clinton on Saturday, pausing for a bit of mechanical work. It flew the last leg Wednesday, starting the day early in the morning in Ainsworth, Neb. It landed at Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport at 7:20 p.m. Wednesday. 

In the early part of the 20th century, traveling to another part of the country typically meant boarding a train.

As the "Roaring Twenties" came to an end, however, Transcontinental Air Transport was founded as an effort to use passenger airplanes to speed travel from Los Angeles to New York. It promised to rush travelers from coast to coast in only 48 hours.

In those days, flying at night was still considered a bit dicey, so TAT used both railroads and Ford Trimotor airplanes. Lindberg, a national hero after flying from New York to Paris in 1927, helped oversee creation of the airline. 

Passengers heading east would board a train in New York. They'd head west, passing through Cleveland, until the train came to a stop at the Port Columbus airport. 

Then passengers would board a Ford Trimotor, which seated 10 passengers, and fly west. The plane would stop in airports in Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City and Wichita before ending up at an airstrip in the small town of Waynoka, Okla. There, passengers would board an overnight train that took them to Clovis, N.M. Once there, they'd board another Ford Trimotor, which would stop in Albuquerque, N.M. and in Winslow and Kingman, both in Arizona,  before arriving in Los Angeles.

The "City of Wichita" helped inaugurate the service. On July 8, 1929, aviator Amelia Earhart and other passengers boarded two Ford Trimotors, including Liberty Aviation's "City of Wichita," to begin a flight west.

“The significance of this aircraft to commercial aviation and airline history is no different than that of the Memphis Bell to B-17s, or the Enola Gay to B-29s from WWII,” said  Jeff Sondles, operations director of the Liberty Aviation Museum.

The plane passed among several owners and spent time in Central America and Mexico. The museum bought it from Evergreen in February. It hadn't flown for years and had to be restored before it could be flown from Oregon. Three new engines were rebuilt, Patrick said, and the propellers were rebalanced.

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