"...And once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been and there you long to return..." - Leonardo da Vinci
After many years of wishing, I finally got to ride in a Ford Trimotor!!
Well, not exactly. Technically, it was a Bushmaster, a 1985 development of the famous Trimotor. I fell in love with Mr. Stout's "Tin Goose" the first time one flew over my house back in 1987. At the time, Capt. Al Cheney was travelling the country in a barnstorming tour with his recently-acquired Ford Trimotor, a 4-AT model, and was giving people rides at local airports and events like Sun 'N Fun. At the time, my family was having some hard times financially, so I just couldn't afford the few dollars for a ride. (I took LOTS of pictures though.) Anyway, about three years after I first saw this beautiful and very unique craft, Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida. Among other planes, the Trimotor (which was then hangared in Kermit Week's Air Museum in Miami) got crumpled up like a ball of aluminum foil when the hangar doors blew off. I saw pictures of it and it gave me this deeply sick feeling that not only did the world lose a very rare piece of history, but that I would never have the chance to fly in the plane I had admired for so long.
But alas, there was hope. After an absence of several years, I was finally able to get back over to Sun 'N Fun in April 1996. I couldn't believe it... there was a Trimotor!!! It had a different tail, but it was obviously a Ford. So I went over and saw the sign... Rides $35. THIS would be the year I finally did it. No more excuses. After talking with the crew, I learned that this Trimotor wasn't, strictly speaking, a Ford. It seems that after Ford quit building airplanes around 1930, they sold back the tooling to its original designer, Mr. Stout. Well, in 1985, two Bushmasters were built - essentially a Trimotor with a higher (stand-up-in-it-able) cabin and a taller tail. It was intended to be used as a bush plane in the tundra and other such places. Only two were built, however. St. Louis Air Tours (from... you guessed it...) was at Sun 'N Fun with one that they recently started giving flights in... in fact, Sun 'N Fun was their first show. So I paid my $50 to fly over to Kermit Weeks' new Fantasy of Flight museum in Polk City and back. Only problem was that while we were there, severe thunderstorms moved in and prevented our return. So I looked around the museum and talked to the fine folks around there while I looked at the incredible collection of planes. (Including, ironically enough, a nicely-restored Ford Trimotor!) I was apparently in the combat flight simulator when they rounded the folks up to take a bus back to Sun 'N Fun. Oh well. I ended up getting a ride from a member of the museum staff who was going back anyway. (Quick note: the Fantasy of Flight staff is a VERY nice bunch of folks who obviously love what they do. If you go, be sure to take a moment and say hi and let them know what a great opportunity it is to have such a well-designed museum to see the world's largest private aircraft collection. Less than ten bucks too... one heck of a deal!)
It didn't matter that I didn't get a second return flight as we had planned. I had finally known what it felt like to fly on three round engines. And compared to the C-47 flight I got two weeks earlier when I joined the Valiant Air Command, I must say I prefer the Bushmaster by far... the visibility is far better, and the nostalgia of the whole experience more than makes up for the higher levels of noise and slower speed. If you ever get a chance to fly on one of these beautiful, corrugated, made-in-America airplanes, I can't recommend it highly enough. It's noisy as heck, you can feel the rumble of the three radials vibrate your whole body. Not to mention it looks like a good, old fashioned flying contraption. But it's perfectly safe, and one of the last vestiges of an era of aviation that is as romantic as it is different from the clinical, cookie-cutter routine of modern airline flight.
In Sept. 2000, I recieved an email out of the blue updating me on the status of this fine bird:
Hi, My name is Nicole and I do the marketing and some co-piloting for Tri-Motor Air Tours (old St. Louis Air Tours). We have that Bushmaster that you are talking about in your web site. She, "Buffy", is #2 of two completed and as you probably know she was licensed and completed in 1985. We are located in Long Beach, CA. (where "Buffy" was built) and operate air tours among other things out here. We are the only flying trimotor in CA with a static display original Ford in San Diego at a museum in Balboa park. Anyway, I was just perusing the internet for Trimotor stuff and stumbled across your site. This is my email address that you can reach me at if you have questions and I'll get you in contact with whomever you need... Trimotor2@aol.com - our website is at http://www.trimotor.com Also we are putting together a little gift store and I'm helping our buyer find things - do you happen to know where I can find tri-motor pins?? Thank You!
It's amazing whom you run into through the wonders of Search Engines...