WESLACO – Bill Thacker, an aviator with 45 years experience revved the three engines on the Ford Tri-Motor and gave his 10 passengers a trip back in time over Mid-Valley Airport.
Thacker, a commercial pilot by trade, uses his time off to volunteer with the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The Ford Tri-Motor model 4-AT-E, the 146th off Ford's innovative assembly line first flew in Aug. 21, 1929.
Thacker, along with the other volunteers of the EAA use the aircraft as an outreach tool to introduce the connection between the national level of the EAA and the regional level.
“It is also an opportunity to get the airplane out to the public,” Thacker said. “It's an opportunity for the local chapter to introduce aviation to the local people.”
Today it is rare to get a hands on learning experience with an aircraft because strict rules by the Federal Aviation Administration and also the Transportation Security Administration.
The original model would have had wicker seats and no seat belts.
The actual aircraft which is being used at Mid-Valley Airport Friday through Sunday was bought by Cuba and used to fly the president.
“The Cuban president used it as his personal plane but then started Cubana Airlines,” Thacker said.
The Cuban government owned three Tri-Motors.
The flight, as Thacker said, is a step back in time. The passenger will experience what it was like to see, feel and smell a flight in 1929, when passenger air travel was first being invented.
Public Flights will be available for purchase either in advance ($70) or walk-up ($75) Friday through Sunday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Children fly for ($50).
To reserve a flight visit the EAA website:
FORD TRI-MOTOR FACTS
First all metal, multiengine commercial airliner
Cost to purchase out of factory:$55,000
Total number of Tri-Motors built from 1926-1933: 199
Led to construction of first airline terminal for passengers and was the first regularly scheduled airliner to operate
Led to the first hotel, the Dearborn Inn, designed and built for the air traveler
Led to the creation of the first paved runway
After the Tri-Motor was replaced as a passenger airliner, it was used to carry heavy freight to mining operations in jungles and mountains
First aircraft manufacturer to mandate crew training for its airline customers