Historic treasure glides through Huntington skies over weekend

A 1929 Ford Tri-Motor glides across the skies above Huntington Municipal Airport on Thursday, June 26. The aircraft visited Huntington June 26 to 29, offering flights that recreate air travel in the “Golden Age of Aviation.” Photo by Lauren Winterfeld.

Originally published July 3, 2014.

A rare, historical treasure visited Huntington the weekend of June 28.

A 1929 Ford 4AT Tri-Motor plane touched down on the tarmac at Huntington Municipal Airport on Thursday afternoon, June 26, and stayed for three days, giving citizens the opportunity to see and experience air travel as it was in "the Golden Age of Aviation."

The plane, which is owned by Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), is part of a fleet of the world's first mass-produced airliners.

Ford Motor Company manufactured 199 Ford 4AT Tri-Motors from 1926 to 1933.

The Tri-Motor that visited Huntington is one of only eight flyable Tri-Motors left in the world, and the only Tri-Motor that "you can walk up and buy a ride in," says pilot Larry Harmacinski.

The plane itself is "quite a rare artifact," he adds, "And kind of an iconic movie star."

"If you line up all these famous airplanes, this is right near the top of the list."

Harmacinski, a Misha-waka native, says the Ford Tri-Motor was the first successful airliner built in America.

"It was cutting edge technology when it came out. The first one flew in 1926.

"It was the first all-metal multiple engine airliner built in America, and the first mass produced airliner.

"Henry Ford did things in a big way. He put the world on wheels with the Model T, and he thought, ‘You know, it's for the next generation, but someone has to kick-start the airline industry.' So he came out with the Tri-Motor."

Harmacinksi is quick to boast about the plane's history, with a child-like enthusiasm.

"Tri-Motor was the first airliner to offer coast-to-coast service in America," he explains, "To give an idea, especially with the young kids, where they
hop on a jet and zoom New York to L.A. in five and a half hours - how spoiled - the first trans-con flight, which was a Tri-Motor, would take 48 hours."

"Forty-eight hours sounds really dramatic," he says, "but the choice was, you hop for days on a train and take a week to go coast to coast, at least. The other choice, if you hop in a car, coast to coast, would take you six weeks - even two months - and you're lucky to do it if you didn't have a serious break down."After the Tri-Motor's run as an airliner for Eastern Air Transport, it was retired in the '50s, says Harmacinski.
The plane then became a firefighter in Missoula, MT, he says, where it was used to drop smoke jumpers onto mountain pastures. Later, he says, the plane "experimented with fire bombers, and went on to have a movie career."

"If this plane could talk," he smiles.

The 1929 Ford Tri-Motor was featured in the 1965 motion picture "The Family Jewels" starring Jerry Lewis, as well as the more recent "Public Enemies" starring Johnny Depp.

"Johnny Depp sat in this very seat," he says, pointing to the single seat towards the back of the plane.

"It's like a time machine," he says of the aircraft.
Eleven pilots volunteer their time to the EAA's Ford Tri-Motor, Harmacinksi says.

"It's fun to fly."

The plane seats nine passengers. Each seat is a window seat, and offers a picturesque view of the earth below.

The Tri-Motor's three Pratt & Whitney R985 engines roar as the craft effortlessly glides across the sky.

The plane has been completely restored to its original colors, and takes an annual tour across the U.S.

When it is not in the air, the plane is housed in a hangar in Oshkosh, WI.

The aircraft delighted Huntington residents who gathered on its first flight Thursday afternoon. Six passengers hopped aboard, as well as a co-pilot. Passengers experienced travel as it was in 1929, and were given a unique a bird's-eye-view of Huntington County.

More information about the Ford Tri-Motor or the EAA may be found at flytheford.org.