NORTH ANDOVER — Taking a ride on a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor is a blast and a half, but beware: Those three 420-horsepower engines make a deafening racket and unlike today's commercial jetliners, the noise is not shielded from the passengers.
Flying on this restored airplane gives one a sense of what it was like to travel by air back in the late 1920s and early 1930s, when aviation was still in its youth. The Tri-Motor, the first all-metal airliner, seated 10 passengers, far fewer than the hundreds that fly on today's commercial planes.
There was no such thing as a pressurized cabin back then, the pilot and co-pilot were plainly visible to passengers and but for the roaring din of the engines, you could have chatted with them.
The Tri-Motor cruised at 90 mph, a fraction of the speeds reached by today's passenger jets, but that was considered fast back in the '30s, according to Colin Soucy, one of the volunteer pilots who have been giving people 12-minute rides in this venerable aircraft at Lawrence Municipal Airport.
Soucy, a retired Delta Airlines pilot, noted that back when the Tri-Motor was young, a Model T, driven along dirt roads, did well to reach 20 mph. In its day, the Tri-Motor was downright revolutionary, according to Penelope Bowman, president of Chapter 106 of EAA, an international organization of aviation enthusiasts that works to educate people about the history of flying, among other missions.
By taking a combination of trains and Tri-Motors, travelers could journey from New York to Los Angeles in just under 48 hours, she noted. A passenger jet today can make that same trip in less than six hours, but 80 years ago, doing it in two days was amazing.
This reporter and photographer Angie Beaulieu got to ride the Tri-Motor, aka "Tin Goose," Thursday afternoon. Flying at 1,000 feet – no need to wear a sweater at that altitude – the view of the Merrimack Valley was spectacular. Each passenger had a window seat so no one missed out on the panoramic vistas of the mighty Merrimack River and the surrounding countryside.