LANSING | Most Americans know about Henry Ford's impact in the automotive world, but he also had a significant role in aviation. He produced the first enclosed-cabin aircraft, one of which can be viewed and flown in the next two days at Lansing Municipal Airport.
Ford had grand plans of airplane mass production until the Great Depression. An airport in Lansing was part of that vision. Lansing’s airport originally was called Ford Airport, and in 1926, the same year the first Ford Tri-Motor was flown, the Ford Hangar was constructed.
That hangar was filled Monday morning with pilots, village officials and others interested in the arrival the 1929 Ford Tri-Motor for a three-day stay as part of a 10-city Midwest tour through the Experimental Aircraft Association. Next to the hangar was a row of Ford Model A automobiles from members of the Highland Model A Club.
Ted Sanders, president of the EAA Chapter 260, helped get Lansing on the tour.
“Different chapters of the EAA sponsor tour stops. This is our first time as a sponsor,” Sanders said. “We figure it’s a natural fit since we have the hangar here. This is nice because it gives people a chance to reach out and touch history.”
Of 199 Ford Tri-Motor planes, only eight still are known to be flying. The EAA owns a Ford Tri-Motor that gives flights from its AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Wis.. The Tri-Motor in Lansing this week is being leased from the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Colin Soucy, of Annapolis, Md., is one of six volunteer pilots who operates the Tri-Motor for the EAA.
“What people loved about this plane are the big picture windows. There’s lots of head room and leg room and a comfortable cabin for sightseeing,” Soucy said Monday just before his third flight of the day.
Soucy, who has been a volunteer pilot with the Experimental Aircraft Association for 18 years and pilots an Airbus A320 for Delta Airlines, said there’s no comparison between the two planes.
“This one requires a different kind of skill. There’s really no instruments — nothing for flying in clouds. It’s all done by looking out the window, which makes it fun,” Soucy said.
On takeoff, Soucy propped an arm out the window. He had 10 passengers for a noisy but scenic ride over Lansing and Northwest Indiana, including the Lake Michigan shoreline with a foggy Chicago skyline in the distance. The plane flies at 90 mph at 1,000 feet. It seats only 10 but each is beside a large window.
“When those three radial engines start up, it’s like 40 Harley-Davidson motorcycles all at once,” Bud Eidam, of Lansing, said after returning from a flight. “I’m really glad I got to ride on it.”
Steve Beck, an Illinois Institute of Technology adjunct professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering, has been serving as a mentor to students looking for uses for the Ford Hangar. He was on a flight Monday.
“You sort of question getting on a plane that was built in 1929, but it was exciting,” Beck said.
Flights continue from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Wednesday. Cost is $80 for adults 18 and older. Students 6 to 17 pay $40 and children 5 and younger are free with a paying legal guardian. Cash, credit card and checks are accepted and no reservations are required.
The public is invited to view the plane at no charge. For more information, call the airport at (708) 418-5888 or visit flytheford.org.