Ford Trimotor: Wikis


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Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Ford 4-AT-E Trimotor "NC8407" c. 2005
Role Civil transport
Manufacturer Ford
Designed by William B. Stout
First flight June 11, 1926 (4-AT)
Introduction 1929
Status 18 in existence as of 2006
Primary users over 100 airlines
United States Army Air Corps
United States Marine Corps

United States Navy
Royal Canadian Air Force

Number built 199
Unit cost US$42,000 in 1933
Variants Stout Bushmaster 2000

The Ford Trimotor (also variously identified as the "Tri-Motor", and nicknamed "The Tin Goose") was an American three engine civil transport aircraft first produced in 1925 by Henry Ford and continued in production until June 7, 1933. Throughout its lifespan a total of 199 aircraft were produced.[1] Although designed for the civil market, the aircraft was also used by the military and was sold all over the world. Unlike his famous Ford Model T cars, trucks and farm tractors, Ford did not make the engines for these aircraft.


Design and development

The story of the Ford Trimotor begins with William Bushnell Stout, an engineer who had previously designed several aircraft using principles similar to those of Professor Hugo Junkers, the famous German manufacturer.

Stout, a bold and imaginative salesman, sent a mimeographed form letter to leading manufacturers, blithely asking for $1,000 and adding: "For your one thousand dollars you will get one definite promise: You will never get your money back." Stout raised $20,000, including $1,000 each from Edsel and Henry Ford. [2]

In the early 1920s Henry Ford, along with a group of 19 other investors including his son Edsel, invested in the Stout Metal Airplane Company. In 1925, Ford bought Stout and its Hugo Junkers-influenced aircraft designs. Ford adapted the traditionally single engined Stout design with three Wright air-cooled radial engines. After a series of test aircraft and a suspicious fire causing the complete destruction of all previous designs, the 4-AT and 5-AT emerged. The Ford Trimotors used an all-metal construction — not a revolutionary concept, but certainly more advanced than the standard construction techniques in the 1920s. The aircraft resembled the Fokker F.VII but it was all metal allowing Ford to claim it was "the safest airliner around." [3] Its fuselage and wings were constructed of aluminum and corrugated for added strength although the incipient drag reduced overall performance.[4] This has become something of a trademark for the Trimotor. Transcontinental Air Transport, which later became part of Trans World Airlines, used the aircraft to begin its transcontinental air service from San Diego to New York in 1929.

Although designed primarily for passenger use, the Trimotor could be easily adapted for cargo hauling as the seats in the fuselage could be removed. To increase capacity, one unusual feature was the provision of "drop down" cargo holds in the lower inner wing sections of the 5-AT variant.[3]

One 4-AT with Wright J-4 200 hp engines was built for the Army Air Corps as type C-3, and seven with Wright R-790-3 (235 hp) as type C-3A. The latter were upgraded to Wright R-975-1 (J6-9) radials at 300 hp and redesignated C-9. Five 5-ATs were built as C-4 or C-4A.

The original (commercial production) 4-AT had three air cooled Wright radial engines. It carried a crew of three: pilot, co-pilot and stewardess as well as eight or nine passengers (up to 12 passengers could be accommodated in special configurations). [3] The later 5-AT had more powerful Pratt & Whitney engines. All models had aluminum corrugated sheet metal body and wings. However, unlike many aircraft of this era, extending through World War II and later, the aircraft control surfaces were not fabric covered, but were of corrugated aluminum. As was common for the time, the rudder and elevator were controlled by wires that were strung along the external surface of the aircraft. Similarly, engine gauges were mounted externally, on the engines, to be read by the pilot looking through the windscreen.[3] Another anachronism was the use of the hand-operated "Johnny Brake." [5]

Like his cars and tractors, these Ford aircraft were well designed, relatively inexpensive, and reliable (for the era). The combination of metal structure and simple systems lead to a reputation for ruggedness. Rudimentary servicing could be accomplished "in the field" with ground crew able to work on engines using scaffolding and platforms. [4] In order to fly into normally inaccessible sites, the Ford Trimotor could be fitted with skis and floats.[4]

The rapid development of aircraft at this time (the vastly superior Douglas DC-2 was first conceived in 1932), along with the death of his personal pilot, Harry Brooks, on a test flight led to Henry Ford losing interest in aviation. While Ford did not make a profit on its aircraft business, Ford's reputation lent credibility to the infant aviation industry, and Ford helped introduce many aspects of the modern aviation infrastructure, including paved runways, passenger terminals, hangars, airmail, and radio navigation.[1]

In the late 1920s, the Ford Aircraft Division was reputedly the "largest manufacturer of commercial airplanes in the world." [6] Alongside the Ford Trimotor, a new one-passenger commuter aircraft, the Ford Flivver or "Sky Flivver" had been designed and flown in prototype form but never entered series production.[6] The Trimotor was not to be Ford's last venture in aircraft production. During World War II, he built the largest aircraft manufacturing plant in the world at the Willow Run, Michigan plant and assembled thousands of B-24 Liberator bombers under license from Consolidated Aircraft.[7]

Operational history

Restored 1929 Ford 4-AT-E Trimotor "NC8407" owned by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and painted in the colors of Eastern Air Transport

A total of 199 Ford Trimotors were built between 1926 and 1933, including 79 of the 4-AT variant, and 117 of the 5-AT variant, plus some experimental craft. Well over 100 airlines of the world flew the Ford Trimotor.[1]

The impact of the Ford Trimotor on commercial aviation was immediate, as the design represented a "quantum leap over other airliners." [8] Within a few months of its introduction, Transcontinental Air Transport was created to provide a coast-to-coast operation, capitalizing on the Trimotor's ability to provide reliable and for the time, comfortable passenger service. While advertised as a transcontinental service, the airline had to rely on rail connections with a deluxe Pullman train that would be based in New York being the first part of the journey. Passengers then rendezvoued with a Trimotor in Port Columbus, Ohio, that would begin a hop across the continent ending at Waynoka, Oklahoma where another train would take the passengers to Clovis, New Mexico where the final journey would begin, again on a Trimotor, to end up at the Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale, a few miles north-east of Los Angeles[8].

The gruelling trip would only be available for a year before Transcontental was merged into a combine with Western Air Service. Ford Trimotors were also used extensively by Pan American Airlines, extending service from North America into Central and South America during the same period. [9] The heyday for Ford's transport was relatively brief, lasting only until 1933 when more modern airliners began to appear. Rather than completely disappearing, the Trimotors gained an enviable reputation for durability with Ford ads in 1929 proclaiming, "No Ford plane has yet worn out in service." [9] First being relegated to second and third tier airlines, the Trimotors continued to fly into the 1960s, with numerous examples being converted into cargo transports to further lengthen their careers and when World War II began, the commercial versions were soon modified for military applications.

Some of the significant flights made by the Ford Trimotor in this period greatly enhanced the reputation of the type for strength and reliability. One example is of Ford 4-AT Trimotor serial number 10, built in 1927. It flew in the United States and Mexico under registration number C-1077, and for several years in Canada under registration G-CARC. It had many notable accomplishments; it was flown by Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart among many others. It made the first commercial flight from the United States to Mexico City, and the first commercial flight over the Canadian Rockies. After damage on landing in 1936, it was grounded and remained for decades at Carcross, Yukon. In 1956, the wreck was salvaged and preserved, and in the mid 1980s Greg Herrick took over C-1077 and began restoring it. As of 2006, C-1077 is in flying condition again, restored to its December 1927 appearance.[1]

Making headlines became a Trimotor trademark. Between November 27 and 28, 1929, Admiral Richard E. Byrd and his crew made the first flight over the South Pole in a Ford Trimotor called Floyd Bennett (one of three aircraft on the expedition, the others being The Stars and Stripes and The Virginian), replacing the Fokker Trimotors Byrd previously used.[4]

Franklin Roosevelt also flew aboard a Ford Trimotor in 1932 during his presidential campaign in one of the first uses of an aircraft in an election, replacing the traditional "whistle stop" train trips.[10]

The long-range capabilities of the Ford Trimotor were exploited in a search for the lost flyers of the Sigizmund Levanevsky Trans-Polar Flight in 1937. Movie stunt flyer Jimmie Mattern flew a specially modified Lockheed Electra along with fellow movie flyer, Garland Lincoln flying a stripped-down Trimotor donated by the president of Superior Oil Company. With 1,800 gallons of avgas and 450 gallons of oil in the modified cabin, the Trimotor was intended to act as a "tanker" for the expedition. The Electra was able to transfer fuel in the air from the Trimotor, through a hose cast out the 4-AT's door. With the first aerial refueling test successful, the pair of pilots set out for Fairbanks, landing first at Burwash, Alaska on August 15, 1937, but the Trimotor ran out of fuel and crashed in inclement weather the following day. The Trimotor was abandoned on the tundra. [11]

In postwar years, the Ford Trimotors continued in limited service with small, regional air carriers. One of the most famous was the Scenic Airways Ford Trimotor N414H which was used for 65 years as a sightseeing aircraft flying over the Grand Canyon. Characteristically, the aircraft is still in use as of 2008, mainly for promotional and film work. [3]


Ford 3-AT
The original Stout prototype; one built.
Ford 4-AT
Pre-production prototype, powered by three 200 hp (149 kW) Wright J-4 radial piston engines, accommodation for two pilots and eight passengers; one built.
Ford 4-AT-A
The original production version, similar to the Ford 4-AT prototype; 14 built.
Ford 4-AT-B
Improved version, powered by three 220 hp (177 kW) Wright J-5 Whirlwind radial piston engines, accommodation for two pilots and 12 passengers; 39 built.
Ford 4-AT-C
Similar to the Ford 4-AT-B, equipped with a 400 hp (298 kW) Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial piston engine, fitted in the nose of the aircraft; one built.
Ford 4-AT-D
Three aircraft similar to the Ford 4-AT-B, each with different engines and minor modifications.
Ford 4-AT-E
Similar to the Ford 4-AT-B, powered by three 300 hp (224 kW) Wright J-6-9 Whirlwind radial piston engines; 24 built.
Ford 4-AT-F
One aircraft similar to the Ford 4-AT-E.
Ford 5-AT-A
Enlarged version, powered by three 420 hp (313 kW) Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial piston engines, accommodation for two pilots and 13 passengers, the wingspan was increased by 3ft 10in (1.17m); three built.
Ford 5-AT-B
Similar to the Ford 5-AT-A, powered by 420 hp (313 kW) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C-1 or SC-1 radial piston engines, accommodation for two pilots and 15 passengers; 41 built.
Ford 5-AT-C
Improved version, similar to the Ford 5-AT-A, accommodation for two pilots and 17 passengers; 51 built.
Ford 5-AT-CS
Seaplane version, fitted with Edo floats; one built.
Ford 5-AT-D
Increased-weight version, powered by three 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney Wasp SC radial piston engines. The wings were mounted 8in (0.2m) higher, to increase cabin headroom, but otherwise similar to the Ford 5-AT-C; 20 built.
Ford 5-AT-DS
Seaplane version, fitted with Edo floats; one built.
Ford 5-AT-E
Proposed version, the engines were relocated to the wing leading edges.
Ford 6-AT-A
Similar to the Ford 5-AT-A, powered by three 300 hp (224 kW) Wright J-6-9 radial piston engines; three built.
Ford 6-AT-AS
Seaplane version, fitted with Edo floats; one built.
Ford 7-AT-A
Resignation of a single Ford 6-AT-A, equipped with a 420 hp (313 kW) Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial piston engine, fitted in the nose of the aircraft.
Ford 8-AT
One Ford 5-AT-C converted into a freight transport aircraft, without the two outer engines.
Ford 9-AT
Redesignation of a single Ford 4-AT-B, fitted with three 300 hp (224 kW) Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial piston engines.
Ford 11-AT
Redesignation of a single Ford 4-AT-E, fitted with three 225 hp (168 kW) Packard DR-980 diesel engines.
Ford 13-A
Redesignation of a single Ford 5-AT-D, fitted with two 300 hp (224 kW) Wright J-6-9 radial piston engines, and a 575 hp (429 kW) Wright Cyclone radial piston engine fitted in the nose of the aircraft.
Ford 14-A
Large three-engined version, powered by three 1,000 hp (715 kW) Hispano-Suiza piston engines, accommodation for two pilots and 40 passengers.
Ford XB-906
One Ford 5-AT-C was converted into a three-engined bomber aircraft.
Ford XC-3
Ford C-3
Military transport version for the US Army Air Corps, based on the Ford 4-AT-B, powered by three 220 hp (177 kW) Wright J-5 Whirlwind radial piston engines; one built.
Ford C-3A
Military transport version, powered by three 235 hp (175 kW) Wright R-790-3 Whirlwind radial piston engines; seven built.
Ford C-4
Military transport version of the Ford 4-AT-B; one built.
Ford C-4A
Military transport version, based on the Ford 5-AT-D, powered by three 450 hp (336 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1340-11 Wasp piston engines; four built.
Ford C-9
Redesignation of all four C-3As fitted with 300 hp (224 Kw) Wright R-975-1 radial piston engines.
Ford XJR-1
Ford JR-2
Military transport version for US Marine Corps, based on the Ford 4-AT-E; two built.
Ford JR-3
Military transport version for the US Navy, based on the Ford 5-AT-C; three built.
Ford RR-1
Redesignation of the XJR-1 prototype.
Ford RR-2
Redesignation of the JR-2.
Ford RR-3
Redesignation of the JR-3.
Ford RR-5
Military transport version for the US Navy and Marines, based on the Ford 5-AT-D; two built, (one each for the Navy and Marines).



Civil operators

1927 4-AT-A, Serial No. 4, C-1077
Grand Canyons Airlines Ford Trimotor (note the deployed wing cargo pannier)
  • BYN Co.(British Yukon Navigation Company) CF-AZB flew in the Yukon from April 1936 until damaged in August 1940. [12]
 Dominican Republic

Military operators

Ford Trimotor G-CYWZ of the Royal Canadian Air Force
 United Kingdom


Cabin interior of 1927 Ford 4-AT C1077, Herrick Golden Wings Museum, Anoka MN.

As of 2008, there are 18 Ford Trimotors in existence, six of which are flyable.[14] The oldest flying Trimotor is Greg Herrick's 1927 4AT-B, Serial No. 10, C-1077.[15] It is based at the Golden Wings Museum [16] near Minneapolis, Minnesota. N8407 (4ATE, 1929) is based at the EAA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and tours the United States.[17] N9645 (5ATB, 1929) is based at the Evergreen Aviation Museum, McMinnville, Oregon. N414H is based at Valle Airport in Valle, Arizona and was used in 2008 and 2009 for flight instruction and type ratings[18]. N9612 and N9651 are also flyable. 5-AT-C tail number N8419 is owned and operated by the AIR ZOO in Kalamazoo, Michigan [19]

Non-flying examples are on display in museums, including the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum[20] in Washington, D.C.;[14] the Henry Ford Museum, and the San Diego Air & Space Museum[21] in San Diego, California.

From 1954 onwards, efforts have been made to produce a modernized version of the Trimotor as the Stout Bushmaster 2000[5] However, with financial, management and marketing problems, only two examples were initially built with a third fuselage never completed. [22]

Specifications (Ford 5-AT Trimotor)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 3 ( 1 Flight attendant)
  • Capacity: fifteen passengers
  • Cost: US$42,000 in 1933
  • Length: 50 ft 3 in (15.32 m)
  • Wingspan: 77 ft 10 in (23.72 m)
  • Height: 12 ft 8 in (3.86 m)
  • Wing area: 835 ft² (77.6 m²)
  • Empty weight: 7,840 lb (3,560 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 10,130 lb (4,590 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 13,500 lb (6,120 kg)
  • Fuel capacity: 230 US gal (886 L)
  • Fuel consumption: 45 US gal/h (173 L/h))


Popular culture

Director Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings 1939 features a Trimotor that catches fire after a freak accident with a condor eventually performing an emergency landing on an airfield. A real and a model Trimotor were used for the sequence.[23]

A number of flyable Trimotors have been seen in recent films, including Trimotor 5ATB N9651 which played a feature role in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and was flown by Lennert von Clemm. Presently, this aircraft is in the Fantasy of Flight museum at Polk City, Florida. [24]

In the 2009 film Public Enemies a Ford Trimotor is seen landing with the captured John Dillinger played by Johnny Depp.

See also

Related development

Comparable aircraft

Related lists


  1. ^ a b c d Herrick, Greg A. "The Amazing Story of America's Oldest Flying Airliner"., Yellowstone Aviation, Inc (Jackson, Wyoming), 2004. Retrieved: October 1, 2006. Note: This 28-page booklet describes the history of the Ford Trimotor 4-AT-10, C-1077, a.k.a. G-CARC "Niagara." It also describes the restoration process and some general history of Ford's Trimotor as well as his aviation enterprises.
  2. ^ Smithsonian
  3. ^ a b c d e Winchester 2004, p. 151.
  4. ^ a b c d Winchester 2004, p. 150.
  5. ^ a b "Return of the Tin Goose." Time, January 6, 1967. Retrieved: July 29, 2008.
  6. ^ a b Head and Pretzer 1990, p. 53.
  7. ^ Head and Pretzer 1990, p. 57.
  8. ^ a b O'Leary 2006, p. 54.
  9. ^ a b O'Leary 2006, p. 55.
  10. ^ Larkins 1992, p. 170.
  11. ^ Wynne 1987, p. 53.
  12. ^ CF-AZB
  13. ^ Fly Dominican Republic / Ford Trimotor Videos
  14. ^ a b Wiggins, Arthur B. "Ford Tri-Motor List"., 2006. Retrieved: April 30, 2008. Note: This is an enthusiast's register of existing Ford Trimotors, Bushmasters and Stinson Trimotors.
  15. ^ Herrick, Greg. "Ford Tri-motor 4-AT-10, C-1077, a.k.a G-CARC 'Niagara.'", Yellowstone Aviation, Inc (Jackson, Wyoming), 2004. Retrieved: October 1, 2006.
  16. ^ Golden Wings Museum
  17. ^ EAA AirVenture Museum - Ford Tri-Motor Bookings
  18. ^ "Time machines do exist!" ValleAirport.Com, Grand Canyon Valle Airport (40G), 2008–2009. Retrieved: March 15, 2009.
  19. ^ Kalamazoo Air Zoo
  20. ^ National Air and Space Museum, America by Air Gallery
  21. ^ SDAM - Welcome to the San Diego Air & Space Museum
  22. ^ O'Callaghan 2002, p. 124.
  23. ^ Wynne 1987, p. 174.
  24. ^ Wiggins, Arthur Brenton. "Where are they now?" The Ford Tri-Motors, January 21, 2009. Retrieved: March 15, 2009.
  • Head, Jeanine M. and William S. Pretzer. Henry Ford: A Pictorial Biography. Dearborn, Michigan: Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, 1990. No ISBN.
  • Larkins, William T. The Ford Tri-Motor, 1926-1992. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 1992. ISBN 0-88740-416-2.
  • O'Callaghan, Timothy J. The Aviation Legacy of Henry & Edsel Ford. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Proctor Publications, 2002. ISBN 1-92862-301-8.
  • O'Leary, Michael. "When Fords Ruled the Sky (Part Two)." Air Classics, Volume 42, No. 5, May 2006.
  • Weiss, David A. The Saga of the Tin Goose: The Story of the Ford Trimotor. Brooklyn, New York: Cumberland Enterprises, Incorporated, 1996. ISBN 0-96342-992-2.
  • Winchester, Jim, ed. "Ford Trimotor". Civil Aircraft (The Aviation Factfile). London: Grange Books plc, 2004. ISBN 1-84013-642-1.
  • Wynne, H. Hugh. The Motion Picture Stunt Pilots and Hollywood's Classic Aviation Movies. Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., 1987. ISBN 0-933126-85-9.

External links


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