Friday, February 8, 2013

Four Fords at Ford

The second of three Ford Trimotor posts for this month

Today's small, innocuous snapshot is really the capture of a remarkable moment in Ford Trimotor history. Taken at Ford Airport in Dearborn, Michigan (now the site of Ford's Dearborn Development Center; for a look at how it appears today, check out this link), the photo was taken at or near the beginning of the 1927 Ford National Reliability Air Tour, which got underway on June 27, 1927 (there is another similar photo of the event, here on San Diego Air & Space Museum's Flikr site, which also appears in a book on the tour).

Lined up from left to right are:

NC3041: This was the third 4-AT-A built went to the Ford Air Transport Service; it was later was rebuilt into a 4-AT-B and then a -E configuration. After service with Ford, the plane bounced around several owners before being bought by Alton and Elizabeth Walker, who used it for barnstorming (Elizabeth was listed as the aircraft's owner). A contemporary newspaper account describes the couple as "barnstorming their way around the world in a tri-motor Ford on their second honeymoon...."

By 1935, it was being flown by Whitepass Airways from Skagway, Alaska, and in 1936 it was in B.C. Canada with the British Yukon Navigation Company (CF-AZB). It was damaged during a towing accident and after a failed rebuild attempt, it was "bulldozed into the ground as part of the construction of longer runways at Whitehorse" in 1942.

A detailed history of this aircraft, including the newspaper item quoted above, can be found at the Davis-Monthan Register site. Photos of its time at Whitepass can be seen here.

NC2492: This was the sixth 4-AT-A, first flew May 18, 1927 and was sold to Standard Oil of Indiana, who used it as a company transport and named it "Stanolind I". Two photos of NC2492 from July 1927 when it was in service with Standard can be seen at the Denver Public Library's Western History website.

At some point, the plane was sold to D. A. Seitz and operated privately. It was destroyed in a crash on February 8, 1930 in San Marcos, Texas, reportedly when the landing gear failed. There were seven on board, and it appears that there were no injuries, although the plane was written off. There is some rumors, though, that the airframe, or parts of it, were recovered and is now undergoing restoration (would love to hear comments from anyone with information!).

A-7526: The fourth 4-AT-A Trimotor was built as a demonstrator for the U.S. Navy, and assigned Navy model number XJR-1 and Bureau Number A-7526.After its initial flight test and demonstration program, it was used as an executive transport for the Navy, flying fairly regularly between San Diego and Washington DC. During the 1927 Reliability Tour, the plane was used to fly press reporters, and given the designation "Advance Pathfinder Airplane and Official Tour Airplane"...which, if this photo was taken during a Tour event, it is seen here.

By April 30, 1930, it had been stricken from the Navy's books, and presumably was scrapped.The Navy and Marines would go on to buy eight more Trimotors from Ford.

NC2435: This was the first, serial number 4-AT-1. Its first flight took place on May 11, 1926, and in October 1927, it was delivered to Ford's own airline, Ford Air Transport Service. At some point, probably at the time of delivery, the registration was changed on NC1492. On May 12, 1928, the aircraft was destroyed when it crashed on takeoff at 8:45am from Ford Airport, killing both pilots, William Munn and L.K. Parker (a newspaper account of the accident can be seen here). The cargo flight was the inaugural run of the Dearborn-Buffalo NY route, and the accident was the first fatal Trimotor crash. According to the contemporary news account, Munn, a former test pilot, lifted off with too little airspeed and the plane stalled.

While the photo on the right isn't related to the 1927 Tour photo, I thought I'd thow it in as a bonus...Henry Ford himself assisting a woman (his wife?) off of a Trimotor sometime in 1928. Our image appears to be a proof for a wire service photo.

Finally, I offer the snapshot below...a small little photo showing three Trimotors in formation flight...I have no idea if this was taken during the 1927 Air Tour, or at some other event, but this seems as good a post as any to include it.

There is a new Trimotor history website that I'm excited to see come our way...check it out and contribute if you can!

Photos of a remarkable Trimotor restoration can be seen here

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