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Last day for Wintersville airliner flights

June 5, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
The folks at the Jefferson County Airpark and Chapter 859 of the Experimental Aircraft Association could only be described as beaming on Tuesday as flight after flight of the antique Ford Tri-Motor visiting the airport took off, taking paying passengers on a tour and a time-trip to the earliest days of airline travel in the United States.

Folks were coming in to the Ralph Freshwater Terminal throughout the afternoon, at least while I was hanging out and saying either they had seen the pictures in the newspaper or heard or saw the plane in the sky on Tuesday.

And while hearing that the articles and photos in the newspaper attracted people in to the airport, seeing the smiles all around on the faces of people who have worked so hard for so many years to bring the big flying visitor to the airport warmed me a little more.

Dave Tulenko is president of the local EAA chapter. He said for many years the local chapter wanted the Ford Tri-Motor to come visit, but there wasn’t a hangar with a large enough entry door to hold it. The AT-5 Tri-Motor had about five feet off each wingtip to fit through the door as crews towed it back into the hangar each evening since it arrived Sunday.

It also was a really neat throwback to the days when people would just go out to their local airport to watch the planes take off and land. There was a time, before hijackings in the 1970s and terrorists in the 21st century, an innocent time, when people could just enjoy spending a Sunday afternoon watching the planes at airports large and small. There was a time when there was an outdoor observation deck at one end of the fabulous old main terminal at Greater Pittsburgh International Airport. And in the earliest days of aviation, the sound of an airplane motor and the sight of a plane landing on a grass strip drew a crowd. Generations of aviators were the result of being able to get children up close with the sights and sounds and smells of planes.

Indeed, that little airport at Wintersville sent my brother on his way to a life with Cessna. I askedd him once how the heck a kid from Steubenville decided on a career in aviation, and he said it was the sight and sound of all those little private planes that used to fly low over our house (we lived in the pattern, I think) when we were kids. I do recall he’d kind of look up and glaze over every time we heard “grrrrrrrrr-rrrraaarrrrr-rraaarrrrrrh” from some thick-winged, slow-moving little plane going overhead. (Funny, but I noticed he doesn’t always look up anymore when I take my all-too-infrequent visits to Wichita. But he’s around planes all day. And I’m impressed because his planes go “whoooossssshhhh-eeeeeessssshhhhhh” as they go overhead.)

On Tuesday, with a warm sun and a cool breeze and a little old airliner rumbling by regularly, there was a crowd at the airport fence. There were people inside the terminal. There were folks watching planes, and I hope they noticed the word is “planes,” not just the Tri-Motor. There was a fair amount of other prop-plane traffic heading in and out of Jefferson County, an occurrence that is on the upswing as more and more businesses come to the area to work with the gas and oil drilling industry.

The Federal Aviation Administration feels strongly enough about the increased usage at Jefferson County that they’re moving the extension of the runway from 4,600 feet to a full mile up on the priority list. A mile-long runway will let bizjets land and take off more regularly.

The Tri-Motor made the airport get noticed, if folks were paying attention. And hopefully they were. And hopefully they’ll tell their friends and neighbors about the busy little airport that is developing off Fernwood Road just beyond the Wintersville village limits.

Today’s the last day the plane will be available for visitors. She leaves on Thursday, bound, I think, for Connellsville, Pa., and the next stop on her summer tour.

Go. At least see and feel and hear the plane, or join the 70 or so folks who have flown aboard the Tri-Motor the last couple of days.

We’ve all got a little inner aviator in us, I believe. Just tap into it.


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Blog Photos

The "office" for a pilot of a pioneering Ford Tri-Motor airliner from the 1920s.