Video shot by Barrett Stinson

HASTINGS — In the late 1920s, commercial airliners had a lot more legroom than they do now.

That’s one of the first discoveries you will make if you fly on the Ford Tri-Motor this weekend in Hastings. The public will be able to fly on the Tri-Motor 5-AT-B today through Sunday. The aircraft, which made its first flight on Dec. 1, 1928, is owned by the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton, Ohio. It is leased from the museum by the Experimental Aircraft Association, which is based in Oshkosh, Wis.

Those who take the flight will get a nice view of Hastings from above.

But they’ll also get a taste of “what flying was like in the ‘20s and 30s,” says pilot Steve Lambrick, who lives in El Paso, Texas.

The plane seats 10 passengers, with room for two in the cockpit. Lambrick pointed out that every passenger has both an aisle and a window seat. Each row consists of two seats, divided by the walkway. The exterior of the plane is corrugated metal, with wood paneling inside. The cockpit towers above the seating area.

Although there’s no TSA around, passengers do have to wear seatbelts. Deb Bergman, who works in Hastings’ engineering department, told passengers about safety before the flights Thursday. Her talk included what to do “in the unlikely event of a water landing.” She was required to say that, she said.

The Ford Tri-Motor plays a big part in aviation history. Sometimes known as the Tin Goose, the Ford Tri-Motor was the first all-metal, multi-engine commercial airliner. A total of 199 were built between 1926 and 1933. The Tri-Motor is regarded as the first mass-produced airliner.

The plane in Hastings is now known as NC9645. Along with a sister ship called the City of Columbus, the NC9645 inaugurated westbound transcontinental commercial air service on July 7, 1929. A company called Transcontinental Air Transport, in conjunction with a railroad, offered coast-to-coast service in 48 hours.

The NC9645 was one of four planes used on the inaugural day of service, Lambrick said.

After a free ride for the media, public flights began Thursday afternoon. Joy McGraw purchased a ride for her 69-year-old husband, Tom. “It’s his Father’s Day present,” she said.

A 7-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy went up with their grandfather and great-grandmother.

One of the veterans taking to the skies was Lamoine Hall, 83. The Campbell resident was in the Air Force from 1954 to 1959. He handled armaments aboard B-29s and B-36s. Sometimes, the plane’s cargo was a hydrogen bomb.

Lambrick said it’s “a unique privilege to be able to fly an airplane that’s so rare.” There are only a handful of Tri-Motors still flying.

Normally, Lambrick flies Boeing 737s. He is a pilot for United Airlines. “I’ve been a captain there for 20 years.”

The Ford Tri-Motor was manufactured by the Stout Metal Airplane Co., a division of Ford Motor Corp.

“The Fords were visionaries in the automobile industry. They were also visionaries in the airline industry. People don’t really know that connection,” Lambrick said. “But Edsel Ford saw a need for a passenger-carrying airplane — an airliner. And this really is the first airliner.”

When it was originally sold, the Tri-Motor cost $55,000.

The aircraft in Hastings has a rich history. Beginning in April 1931, it was owned by Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA), where it was part of the development of TWA’s route system.

Later, it entered the fleet of Grand Canyon Airlines. Beginning in 1937, the plane was used to give aerial tours of Boulder Dam.

Ownership transferred to TACA Airlines in Honduras. From 1937 to 1946, the plane flew the skies above Nicaragua.

In 1964, the aircraft was purchased by William F. Harrah, who founded Harrah’s Hotel and Casinos.

A very similar Ford Tri-Motors craft appears in the 1984 film “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” That 5-AT-B plane was built in 1929.

The Tin Goose was brought to Hastings by the Hastings chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association and the Hastings Airport Association, with help from the city.

Matthew Kuhr, president of the Hastings Airport Association, pointed out that the airport has a new fixed-base operator, Hastings Air, which opened in April. A ribbon-cutting was planned for Thursday night, with the involvement of the Hastings Chamber of Commerce. Among other things, Hastings Air sells airplane fuel.

In his remarks to the media, Lambrick pointed out the important role that airports play in local economies.

The public is invited to a fly-in pancake breakfast at the airport Saturday.


I am the Cops & Courts Reporter for the Grand Island Independent. I welcome news tips!

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