Fly the Ford: Goose offers gander at the way things used to fly

SANDUSKY It's not one of the Port Clinton Ford TriMotors, but people always ask if it is. That's what volunteer pilot
Don Lee
May 24, 2010

 

SANDUSKY

It's not one of the Port Clinton Ford TriMotors, but people always ask if it is.

That's what volunteer pilot Cody Welch says about the Experimental Aircraft Association's Ford TriMotor spending the holiday weekend at Griffing Airport, selling rides and giving passengers a taste of what flying was like in the early days of commercial flying.

"It's a step back in time," said Welch, whose paying job is flying sleek, modern jetliners for Northwest Airlines. "It's time travel."

Indeed, to hear Welch and other TriMotor aficionados talk, the "Tin Goose" is a direct link to the time when airlines were, literally, just getting off the ground.

"To think this aircraft was designed two years before I was born," said Ewald Kobler, whose ride on the Tin Goose was a 76th birthday gift from his wife, Nancy. The Koblers, who have been married five years, split their year between Sandusky and Florida.

"For the old lady she is, it was wonderful," said Nancy Kobler. A longtime former resident of the Chaussee, she marveled at seeing Cedar Point from the air for the first time in her life.

"First" applies to the Goose in countless ways.

The TriMotor was one of the first practical passenger airliners and its all-metal construction, a first in its day, was a selling point in convincing people airlines could be a safe and practical means of travel. The plane married the mass-production techniques Henry Ford developed for his auto plants with the innovation of early aircraft designer Bill Stout, who got most of Detroit's auto magnates to invest in his company.

Fledgling airlines typically flew the Goose for a year or two, until aircraft companies Douglas and Boeing came up with faster, sleeker airliners such as Douglas' famed DC-3.

But the TriMotor did the job when it came to "kick-starting" modern airlines, Welch said.

"You go jump on an airliner in Cleveland, thank Henry Ford," he said.

The Goose got things started around here; that's certain.

Island Airlines, which Sandusky airport manager Milton Hersberger started in the 1930s, was based in Port Clinton until Sandusky's Griffing Flying Service bought it in 1992. Hersberger traveled all over to buy TriMotors, in whatever condition. The Tin Goose -- nicknamed for its ungainly appearance and its then-revolutionary all-metal construction -- was the signature plane of his airline, which had as many as seven during its heyday.

In fact, as the aviation Web site aero-news.net put it, "If a city can associate itself with an airplane type, Port Clinton, Ohio, certainly identifies with the Ford TriMotor."

When the British publisher of a coffee-table book about "Airplanes of the World" was looking for a photo to go with its listing of the TriMotor, it settled on a shot of an Island Airlines Tin Goose taking on passengers at Put-in-Bay.

So closely is the Tin Goose associated with Island Airlines that Welch says people who see the plane on its annual tours ask, no matter which city they're in, whether the plane was "one of the Lake Erie planes."