It seems that Henry Ford wasn’t much for aeroplanes. He only flew three times in his life and said “Airplanes belong to another generation.” but he was in safe hands on his first and second flight in 1927 with the one and only Charles Lindbergh at the controls!
Charles Lindbergh was one of America’s most accomplished aviators and a national hero. He took Ford up in the famous Spirit of St. Louis which in 1927 Lindbergh piloted from New York to Paris non stop in 33 hours to become the first person to ever do so.
Edsel Ford (Henry’s son) on the other hand could see the possibilities in the innovation of air travel and persuaded him to expand their car manufacturing business and get into the aircraft building industry where they could utilize their assembly line expertise to maximum effect. Ford Chief Engineer William Mayo convinced them to go into partnership with Stout’s Metal Airplane Company to design and build aircraft under the Ford banner.
One significant aircraft that resulted from this new venture was the successful Ford Tri-Motor a 3 engine passenger aircraft which was often called “The Tin Goose” for it’s all metal airframe. The aircraft was produced from 1926 to 1933 with 199 airframes built. Bill Stout said “The greatest single thing that I accomplished for aviation was getting Mr. Ford into it.”
The Ford Tri-motor was designed from the outset to carry up to 14 passengers rather than mail and became an important part of early aviation. With its sound reputation for reliability, safety and a higher performance than its counterparts in the skies it became a mainstay for early airlines such as Continental and TWA. Ford declared it “The safest airliner around” and given the success of the Ford Model T car people trusted him and for this very reason many airlines around the world adopted the aircraft to transport their passengers safely to their destination.
The Ford Tri-Motor was the first commercially successful all metal aircraft and has been designated a National Historical Development by the American Society for Metals. A classic example of this simple but rugged three engined transport aircraft can be seen at The Henry Ford in Dearborn just outside of Detroit, Michigan. This place is massive and has an excellent collection of all forms of transport and industry. The cars there are the main drawcard but I was surprised with the excellent aircraft collection on display too!
The Ford Tri-Motor named “Floyd Bennett” at the museum is beautifully preserved, has a unique stunning gold tint and a very proud history. In 1927 this was the first ever aircraft to fly over the South Pole as part of an expedition led by famous explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd of the US Navy who acted as the navigator and was flown by Bernt Balchen a Norwegian polar aviator who later served in the US Air Force. Not only did the Ford Tri-Motor revolutionize the aviation industry it was setting records too.
Unfortunately Ford did not stay in the aviation industry for very long. Despite the success of the aircraft the business was not profitable and they ended it in 1932 during The Great Depression when they needed to focus on core business to survive. Despite the demise of the Ford aviation business, for those few years they introduced a number of aviation innovations including radio beacons at airports to aid navigation and further increase safety and made great achievements for a company that has had so much influence on the auto industry and the industrialised manufacturing process. These achievements paved the way for future air travel as we know it today. Thanks Henry!