XENIA — Dayton might be the birthplace of aviation, but the skies over Xenia will be filled with a different piece of flying history.
This weekend, vintage aircraft enthusiasts have the opportunity to book a 20-minute ride aboard a 1928 5-AT-B Ford Tri-Motor prop-driven airliner known as, “The Tin Goose.” Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Chapter 382 based at the Greene County Lewis A Jackson Regional Airport is hosting the event as a fundraiser for its scholarship program.
The EAA is a non-profit organization based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Founded in 1953, the organization has 900 chapters and more than 200,000 members worldwide who explore interests in home-built aircraft, ultralights, warbirds, vintage aircraft, aerobatics, and more. Their partnerships with aviation museums around the country make events like this possible.
Chapter 382’s scholarship program helps local youths pay flight training expenses and earn their pilot certificate.
“The scholarship provides $10,000 a year, but that isn’t quite enough anymore,” said Carrie Sharp, the chapter event chair. “We are really fortunate to have this plane here and to be able to provide this opportunity for people to experience it.”
Everyone involved with the tour is a volunteer, from the ground crew and ticket handlers to the mechanics and the pilot, so all the proceeds go to the sponsor organization.
Boasting a wingspan of 77 feet, 10 inches, the Ford Tri-Motor is an impressive sight. It was the first all-metal aircraft, with a polished corrugated skin and three massive engines, one on the nose and another under each wing. Historically known as the “City of Wichita,” this tri-motor was originally operated by Transcontinental Air Transport, Inc., the company that eventually became TWA. The plane is on lease to the EAA from the Liberty Aviation Museum, in Port Clinton, Ohio.
When it was time for the first ride of the day on Thursday, the ground crew prepared the plane and boarded the passengers. One by one, pilot Ashley Messenger brought the engines to life following a cue from the ground crew. More than 100 feet away, spectators could feel the power resonating from the three 430-horsepower Ford engines. At the end of the runway, the pilot throttled up, and a few hundred feet later, “The Tin Goose” lifted gracefully into the skies over Greene County.
Messenger got his start in flying in a field in northeast Ohio when he was just 13. He calls the tri-motor, “The 747 of its day,” yet noted some major differences that might shock modern air travelers.
“There’s no power steering or air conditioning,” he said. “And you might hit 85 miles per hour on a good day.”
Each flight lasted about 20 minutes and Messenger circled the plane southwest to the Caesar’s Creek area and back. Occupying the copilot seat as one of the passengers for that flight was 21-year-old, Xenia native, Savannah Surls.
“It was fantastic, it was amazing,” Surls said. Taking lessons to become a pilot herself, Surls currently works at the airport as a line crew manager.
Messenger’s enthusiasm for sharing the aircraft and the experience is almost kid-like.
“I like watching smiles when [the passengers] get off the plane and it’s interesting how many first-time riders we get who have never been on an airplane before, and this will be their first. It’s just great to share that with people,” he said.
Messenger believes it is important to keep these vintage aircraft flying and available for the public to experience, first-hand.
“It’s a connection to our history,” the pilot said. “This airplane is largely responsible for what we enjoy as airline travel today. If Henry Ford hadn’t decided to put his name and reputation behind flying in the 1920s, I don’t know where we would be.”
The Ford Tri-Motor rides run through Sunday, Oct. 2, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days. Tickets are $55 to $85 per seat for each ride, available as walk-ups or by purchasing tickets online. If you miss this stop on the tour, you can catch up with it just a few hours away in Lexington, Kentucky, Oct. 7-9.
Information about the EAA, ticket sales, and the full tour schedule are available online at www.eaa.org.