A 1929 Ford Tri-Motor airplane stopped on the Grand Strand Thursday, giving locals and visitors a glimpse into the “Golden Age of Aviation.”
In an age of waiting in long security lines and fighting crowds at the baggage claim, aircraft enthusiasts have a chance this weekend to experience flight as it was in the past – 1929, to be exact.
“I’ve always wanted to fly in one of these,” said Mark Dirienzo, Winston-Salem, N.C. resident visiting Myrtle Beach on Thursday .
Dirienzo, a pilot himself, just happened to be in the area when he learned the aircraft would be visiting the Strand. The $75 ticket to fly in the plane was a meager price to pay to live a dream, he said..
“It’s just such a piece of history,” he said. “I mean, that’s pretty old.”
Captain Colin Soucy and crew tour with the plane, one of eight of the models known left, and it’s housed in the EAA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, WI. Soucy flies the plane all around the country, giving the public a chance to harken back to before major airlines began flying jumbo jets.
“We do this so the public can experience the sights and sounds of 1929 air travel,” Soucy said. “It’s got great big picture windows and comfortable seats.”
Though the three engines make for a noisy trip, the small, 10-seat, single-asile plane – with single seats near the windows – gives each passenger a view out a window from which to catch a breathtaking view of downtown Myrtle Beach. A quick trip over the ocean gives participants views of sea life and waves washing onto the shore.
“When everyone gets off the plane, they always have huge smiles on their face,” Soucy said.
The Ford Tri-Motor was the first all-metal, multi-engine, commercial airliner to grace U.S. skies, and can fly up to 90 mph. The plane burns about a gallon and a half of gas per minute, however, making it less economical than modern aircraft. Back in 1929, a Ford Tri-Motor straight out of the factory cost $55,000, and about 199 were built between 1926 and 1933.
“When this airplane came along, you could start an airline,” Soucy said, which is exactly what happened. The Tri-Motors led to construction of the first airline terminal for passengers and was the first regularly scheduled passenger airplane to operate.
After a few years, the aircraft was replaced with more modern models, allowing for more passengers and better fuel economy. The Tri-Motors were still used to carry heavy freight to mining operations in jungles and mountains; the plane visiting the Strand used to fight wildfires in the West, dropping smoke jumpers over flaming forests, Soucy said.
Many of the planes later became “bush planes,” flying cargo and supplies into Alaska and the Antarctic, where they eventually met their demise.
“They ran their course, and as soon as somebody crashed them, they just didn’t repair them,” Soucy said.
Myrtle Beach will host the plane until Sunday, and will be giving 15-20 minutes flights from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The flights take off from the General Aviation area of Myrtle Beach International Airport, 1250 Airdome St, Myrtle Beach. For more information, contact the on-site crew at 920-379-8339.
Through the rumble of the engines, Dirienzo shot photos and filmed parts of the flight with his phone. Though there was a cool breeze and the clouds enveloped the sun, Dirienzo checked off an item from his bucket list.
“It actually wasn’t even as loud as I thought it would be,” he said. “It’s just so cool to think that this is from 1929.”