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September 4, 2012

Purdue offers rides in plane model in which Armstrong took first flight

1929 Ford Tri-Motor plane

The Experimental Aircraft Association is bringing a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor to the Purdue Airport on Wednesday (Sept 5). Purdue students, faculty and staff will be able to ride in the plane, which served as one of the world’s first airliners. (Photo provided by the Experimental Aircraft Association)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue's Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 256 on Wednesday (Sept. 5) will bring to campus a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor airplane, a 1930s icon that revolutionized commercial air travel by making transcontinetal and international flights feasible.

A limited number of tickets are available to Purdue students, staff and faculty for a series of flights between 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Purdue Airport.

"We're training our students to push the aviation industry forward," said Brent Bowen, aviation technology department head. "It is invaluable to get them firsthand experience with an aircraft that dramatically changed the industry."

Affectionately known as the "Tin Goose," the 12-passenger plane was easily recognized because of its three prominent radial engines and its corrogated aluminum skin, which led Ford to claim the plane was the "safest around."

When Neil Armstrong was just 6 years old, his father pulled him from Sunday school one day to take his first flight, an aerial tour of their town of Warren, Ohio, in a Tri-Motor that was visiting as part of an airshow.

"Neil's dad claimed to be scared nearly to death because the plane rattled so much," said Purdue aviation historian John Norberg. "But Neil quickly proceded to fly model airplanes and worked several jobs to afford flight lessons when he was 15."

Experimental Aircraft Association pilot Larry Harmacinski, a 1980 Purdue graduate, will fly the Tri-Motor in from Ohio and pilot its flights at Purdue. He said it's quite different than the B-737s he flies for a living.

"There is a nice solid feel to the Ford, and she has a gentle nature to her, but it is a hands-on, stick and rudder airplane, which is one of the reasons I love flying it so much," Harmacinski said. "In its day it was a very large airplane, and it is no exaggeration to say that Henry Ford advanced commercial aviation greater than anybody else in the late 1920s."

This Tri-Motor is one of only eight surviving. In 1973 the EAA gave the plane a $1 million rebuild after a long career that saw it serve as the flagship plane of the nascent Eastern Airlines, a Cubana Airlines airliner, the Dominican Republic's presidential plane, a Montana crop duster, an airborne forest fire fighter and a smokejumper transport.

To purchase tickets, contact Shannon Cassidy of Purdue aviation technology at 765-494-5782.

Writer: Jim Schenke, 765-237-7296, jschenke@purdue.edu

Sources: Brent Bowen,  765-494-5782, bdbowen@purdue.edu

Larry Harmacinski, flyharm@aol.com

Note to Journalists: Broadcast-quality video may be available. Contact Jim Schenke, Purdue News Service, at 765-237-7296, jschenke@purdue.edu