October 3, 2008 This rare 1929 Ford 4-AT-E Tri-Motor airplane is set to be auctioned in a No Reserve sale by the Barrett-Jackson Auction Company in January 2009. Recently restored to its original specifications, the plane has a fascinating history, having survived bullet fire during the World War II attack at Pearl Harbor.
According to Barrett-Jackson president, Steve Davis, Ford’s Tri-Motor airplanes played a very important role in creating the modern transportation system. “Just as he put America on wheels with the Model T ‘Tin Lizzie,’ Henry Ford created the Tri-Motor ‘Tin Goose’ airplane to help the general public realize the benefits of air travel. This particular plane has a wonderful history, and everyone who loves both automobiles and aviation will be touched by its story,” Davis said. Following World War I, Ford recognized the potential for mass air transportation and the Tri-Motor “Tin Goose” was created to promote air travel. Amidst concerns over engine reliability, Ford specified three engines. He also added features such as the enclosed cabin to ensure passenger comfort.
The airplane being auctioned is one of just 199 Tri-Motors built between 1926 and 1933.
The Tri-Motor commenced its historic life in 1929 in Spokane, Washington. There it served as a passenger plane for the Mamer Flying Service. The plane was sold to K-T Flying Service of Honolulu and was present at Pearl Harbor during the surprise military strike by the Japanese navy against the US on December 7, 1941. The attack caused exterior bullet holes, which were repaired, and the aircraft quickly returned to service. Following the Pearl Harbor attack, the Tri-Motor was leased by Trans World Airlines on mainland US in 1949 for the company’s 20th anniversary celebration. The plane was then modified into a sprayer and fire fighting tanker and used by the Johnson Flying Service in Montana to drop smoke jumpers and supplies to fire fighters. Since 1969, the plane has been privately owned and was part of the Wings and Wheels museum collection previously located in Orlando, Florida.
The Tri-Motor’s restoration was primarily supervised by Bob Woods at Woods Aviation in Goldsboro. The airframe was reworked, a new interior installed and the exterior completely re-skinned. The wings needed reworking, as did the landing gear and braking system; both of which are complete and original. The straight-laced wire wheels are fitted with tires that were re-sculpted to replicate the correct profile and tread pattern of the period. The wood paneling of the interior was also recreated and, in order to match the condition of the plane when it was delivered by Ford in 1929, there were no modern avionics or communications equipment added.
The plane recently made one final flight prior to the sale, making its way from Petersburg, Virginia to Goldsboro, North Carolina, to be met by its current owner and former ace for the US Air Force during the Korean War, Dolph Overton III. The flight was co-piloted by his son, Dolph Overton IV, alongside legendary air show pilot Jimmy Leeward.
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