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Tri-Motor is here, where are you?

June 3, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
I am just a bit excited this morning as I wait for my second trip into history aboard a Ford time machine.

While it would be really neat if it was an old GT-40 or Steve McQueen’s Bullitt Mustang from 1968 and I got to drive, I don’t think the Ohio Valley would really need me behind the controls of this time machine.

The long-anticipated visit of a Ford Tri-Motor airliner to the Jefferson County Air Park is under way. Local aviation enthusiasts in the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 859 have been working toward this visit for years.

The plane landed, with its deep blat-blat-blatt from its three radial engines reverbrating off the hangars, on Sunday evening.

Pilot Cody Welch had a smooth ride in from Cleveland, he said, as he took the time to explain a bit about the plane. The Tri-Motor that landed at Wintersville and will be giving rides to area passengers through Wednesday, is painted to resemble an Army C-4 transport -- the Tri-Motors served in that role in addition to giving airlines an actual airliner for the first time.

Welch and the cadre of local pilot volunteers from EAA Chapter 859 got the plane into one of the large hangars, and then spread tarps under the wings and nose.

Radial engines -- where the pistons connect in a circle to a central shaft -- like those on the Ford tend to leak. One aviation enthusiast said if they weren’t leaking, it means there’s no oil in them.

Each engine is marked as needing to be topped off with 8 gallons of oil.

The average little Cessna 182 Skylane single engine aircraft that might fly out of a place like Jefferson County takes about 8 quarts, and if it’s leaking all that much, it’s probably not good to fly.

All radials leak. When I met up with a B-17 at Wheeling-Ohio County Airport a few years back and got ready to take a flight, I was given a warning: Don’t walk under the engines unless you want a nice burn to take home as a souvenir.

The Tri-Motor is both bigger than you might expect, and smaller than you think. It is lumpy and corrugated and looks as aerodynamic as my house. And it is beautiful, especially if you like machines from the days where it was obvious a man,not a computer, designed the machine. It is an antique but it is rugged and ready.

Welch, who spent a career fllying jets for Northwest Airlines, said he looks forward to the time he spends flying the 84-year-old airliner. This is from a guy who had what a lot of "kids" of my generation would have thought of as a dream job — If you have any inkling of doing something different this week, something fun, something that makes our area look like SimCity as you fly over it low and slow, do it. Go to the airport until 5 today or from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday or Wednesday, ante up the money for the ride and enjoy. It’s a lifetime memory waiting to happen.

And I get to do it for the second time in my life in a couple of hours.

Stay tuned.


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Blog Photos

Tri-Motor N8419, owned by the Kalamazoo Air Zoo and on loan to the national Experimental Aircraft Association for a summer tour, is painted in Army C-4 transport colors. -- Paul Giannamore