Tin Goose - She Led the Golden Age
February 1962 American Modeler
had no idea that there were multiple versions of the Ford Trimotor.
This article from an 1962 edition of American Modeler provides a
fairly in-depth look at the history of the airplane. If you follow
politics at all, you know that
is a name that became a household word when George Bush chose Dick
Cheney as his vice president. According to author Joe Christy,
SAFE-way airline, which operated Ford Trimotors, was started
by Oklahoma oilman Erle Halliburton, and was sold to TWA (Trans
World Airline) in 1931. In an incredible stroke of good fortune,
Melanie and I were able to take a ride in a Ford Trimotor in the
summer of 2013, flying out of Erie International Airport (see my
Ford Trimotor video).
Tin Goose - She Led the Golden Age
Story by Joe Christy
Commercial aviation in the U.S. owes
its beginning to a very improbable letter. Copies of it were mailed
to a hundred Detroit businessmen by William Bushnell Stout. It asked
each for one thousand dollars. Stout said that he needed capital
to build a new kind of plane - and concluded with the unsettling
statement that no contributor should ever expect to see his money
again. Twenty-five prospects promptly sent checks.
The letter was characteristic of young Stout, a mechanical engineer
of unbounded enthusiasm, the results were in tune with the country's
1923 mood. In the world of finance, ceiling and visibility were
unlimited. Henry Ford sold more than 1 1/2 million Model T's that
year. Some businessmen were convinced because of the Post Office
Department's successful experiment with airmail that airplanes might
offer practical commercial value.
Southwest Air Fast Express' Ford was 25th 5-AT built; #9666
flew between Missouri and Texas according to Burrell Tibbs,
pioneer pilot, who supplied 1929 photos.
SAFE-way airline, started by Oklahoma oilman Erle Halliburton,
was sold to TWA in 1931.
Up until this time, there
had been almost no attempt to put airplanes to work. The single
exception had been the barnstormers who daily risked their lives
(and those of their venturesome passengers) flying war surplus "Jennies"
out of the nation's cow pastures.
Two or three efforts had
been made to establish an "airline." As early as 1914, a 22-mile
route, connecting St. Petersburg and Tampa, was flown for several
weeks. But the single passenger "airliner" failed to attract enough
business to fill even its one drafty seat. Another short-lived venture,
spurred by Prohibition, was a route between Key West and Havana,
inaugurated early in 1923. But however thirsty Americans may have
been, they weren't that thirty. After all, ninety miles over open
water, in a wood-and-wire biplane, was carrying the habit a little
The "new kind of plane" in which Stout asked the
Detroit industrialists to invest was a small three-place monoplane
conventional in every way except one - it was built from and covered
entirely with metal. This was revolutionary in the United States,
though Junkers, a German aircraft firm, had built such craft during
WW-I. Stout's plane was powered (or, more accurately, underpowered)
with a 90-hp OX-5 engine (obtainable as war surplus for $50 each).
Bill called this craft the Stout Air Sedan. Only one was
built. Although few people heard of it, it was one of the most successful
airplanes ever conceived. True, its performance was less than sensational.
In fact, it barely flew. But it succeeded fabulously in another
way ... it interested Edsel Ford.
When Edsel came by for
a visit, Bill explained the need for more horsepower -and, of course,
more money. Edsel went to his father. Within a few months the mighty
Ford Motor Company had built an airplane factory and an airfield
and "leased" them to the Stout Metal Plane Company.
happy, Bill designed and built two planes during 1924. He called
them the Model 2-AT ("AT" hopefully stood for Air Transport). These
2-AT's were essentially 8-passenger versions of his first plane.
Larger aircraft had full cantilever wings, they had no external
bracing-a very advanced concept in 1924. They were all-metal, covered
with corrugated aluminum, powered with 400-hp Liberty engines. Although
water-cooled, heavy, and bulky the Liberty was one of the best airplane
engines of its day.
These two craft were ready when, early
in 1925, Congress passed the Kelly Bill, authorizing the Post Office
Department to contract for air mail service with private operators.
And it seems likely, in retrospect, that this pending legislation
may have been what Henry Ford was thinking of when he financed Bill
Mr. Ford asked Bill if the Model 2-AT's were capable
of dependable airline service. Bill replied that that was what Mr.
Ford had been betting his money on. Mr. Ford said "Fine!" they'd
begin a regular schedule between Detroit and Chicago right away.
He meant "right away," too. The first U.S. air freight line was
in operation less than a week later on April 13, 1925. Then, as
quickly as a couple more 2-AT's could be completed (eleven were
built), the line also flew regularly scheduled flights between Detroit
The 2-AT's vindicated Bill's ideas about
all-metal airplanes. Their rugged construction, okayed by Bill's
chief engineer George H. Prudden, who had been trained as a specialist
in reinforced concrete structures, proved exceptionally trouble-free
maintenance-wise. The 2-AT's never injured a passenger during their
service on the Ford airlines.
Eleventh Goose off production line, NC-1780
was registered to Marcell N. Rand,
Graybar Bldg, New York City
- currently A.M. HQ! (Ford pix).
In July 1925 the Ford Motor Company "purchased" the Stout
Metal Plane Company. The twenty-five original investors, who had
been warned never to expect to see their money again, received back
double their investment. Bill and his employees remained to work
in Ford's Aviation Division.
Henry Ford was officially in the airplane business. Characteristically
he gave it the same all-out effort that marked his participation
in the automobile business. He began carrying passengers on his
freight lines. He built the first concrete runways in the U.S.,
the first airport control tower, the first air hotel, pioneered
in air-to-ground radio communications, spent huge sums to advertise
air travel to the American public. Just as important, Ford's mere
presence in aviation gave the infant industry tremendous prestige
and helped to attract other needed capital. Henry Ford was regarded
as a financial wizard, if he thought flying had a future, it was
a thing worth looking into.
In October, the Postmaster General
awarded airmail contracts to each of the routes operated by the
Ford Air Transport Company. In February 1926 the Ford airline became
the first to carry the nation's mail.
Meanwhile, at Henry
Ford's direction, Bill and his engineers came up with the first
Ford Trimotor. A trimotor design, long cherished by plane builders,
had suddenly become possible with the introduction of the new Wright
"Whirlwind" air-cooled engine. But the first trimotor was something
of a freak.
Labeled Model 3-AT, it looked as if it had been designed by the
office scrub woman - with an assist from an intoxicated Zeppelin
commander. Vaguely it resembled an enlarged 2-AT, with a pair of
Wright "Whirlwinds" hurriedly affixed to the leading-edges of the
wings. The nose section, tall enough for passengers to stand in,
with observation windows all around, featured a third engine on
its "chin." The pilots' cockpit which appeared to be an after-thought
was between the engines on top of the wing, and not enclosed. It
turned out that the 3-AT's performance pretty much matched its looks.
Test pilots reported that she "cruised at 85, landed at 85, and
had a top speed of 85." Fortunately, it was destroyed in a hangar
fire after 3 hops.
Daddy of famed Trimotors was single engine 2-AT "Maiden
Dearborn IV", operated by Ford Air Transport Co., first
airline to fly nation's mail.
Ford's Model 3-AT was initial 3-motored venture by auto
outfit. Short lived, performance matched its appearance.
National Air Transport Tin Goose loads mail. N.A.T., plus
Varney Air Lines, Pacific Air Transport, and Boeing Air
Transport, became United Air Lines.
Home-built tucked under Goose's wing had Model A Ford engine
(note '30 Ford radiator shell). This Trimotor flew first
as S.A.F.E. transport, later bore American Airlines markings.
It is not recorded what Mr. Ford had
to say about the 3-AT fiasco, but even Henry's enemies would admit
that he didn't give up easily. Bill and his engineers began work
on another trimotor - and went from one extreme to the other. This
one was a classic in the full sense of the word!
and built in slightly over four months, it emerged for its first
flight on June 11, 1926. Officially Model 4-AT, it was soon dubbed
affectionately, "Tin Goose," by those who flew her. Goose or not,
she ushered in aviation's Golden Age.
In many ways, the
Tin Goose has never been equaled in performance. She would take
off, fully loaded, in less than 900 feet-and "fully loaded" meant
all that could be crammed inside. Her flight characteristics were
such that one pilot, Harold Johnson, repeatedly pulled her into
a loop as her wheels broke ground on take-off. At least once, he
performed this maneuver with the nose-engine inoperative. There
wasn't a fighter plane in the world at that time that could do it
- and the Goose was a six-ton airliner!
First 4-AT's off
the production line were eight-passenger models, but the plane was
soon enlarged to carry twelve (eventually, fifteen). The earlier
ones, with 200-hp Whirlwinds, cruised at 95-mph and had a top speed
of 115. It wasn't that the Goose was slow, it was just that she
had her own gait. She'd do anything anyone asked of her, but she
didn't like to be hurried. Bigger engines helped a little, though
not much. Equipped with 300-hp Wright engines and 420-hp Pratt and
Whitney Wasps, her cruising speed went up to 115 and 122, respectively.
The Goose sold for $42,000. She had a wingspan of 77 feet
and was 50 feet long. Pilots were agreed that she could not be overloaded.
What you could get inside, she'd get into the air. And empty or
fully loaded she handled the same - asking favors of no one. She
was built like a bridge; structural failure in flight was a physical
Thus it was that all the ingredients necessary
for profitable commercial flying finally came together in a safe
and efficient plane. Guaranteed payments for carrying the mail resulted
in the attraction of new capital.
Airlines, equipped with
the fabulous Goose, blossomed out all over the nation. Then came
a tremendous boost. In May 1927 Charles Lindbergh's flight to Paris
caught the public fancy. A huge passenger business was suddenly
added to the new airlines' bread-and-butter airmail revenue. By
1929, there were 14,000 miles of lighted airways and 1,000 airports
in the United States.
And what of the Goose? Admiral Byrd
flew one over the South Pole. A fleet of them operated by TAT Airline
(now TWA) began the first transcontinental service. Lindbergh (soon
a TAT official) demonstrated the possibilities of high-altitude
air routes in a Goose. And when in May 1930 pretty, young Ellen
Church was hired by United Air Lines as the first air hostess, aviation's
Golden Age was indeed in full bloom.
Altogether, 199 Ford
Trimotors were built before production ceased in 1932. The airline
market had been saturated, the country was near the low point of
its Great Depression. By the time economic conditions improved,
a bigger and faster plane was available to the airlines. Called
DC-3, it, too, was a pretty good job.
Between twelve and
fifteen Tin Geese are still licensed and flying (Admiral Byrd's
Goose is in the Ford Museum at Dearborn, Michigan). None ever wore
out. Those that are gone were flown into a cloud-full-of-rocks,
or ran out of gas over rough country, or were disposed of in some
manner reflecting human-failure, rather than Goose-failure. In fact,
the Goose's unmatched abilities probably contributed to the destruction
of many. Because of her willingness to lift heavy loads in and out
of small, rough fields, she has been greatly prized by Latin-American
bush pilots. Over the years, in the world's remote places, unwise
pilots asked things of her no airplane could or should do.
Two are still in service in the United States. Operated by Island
Air Lines out of Port Clinton, Ohio, they fly a daily schedule,
as they have been doing for 25 years, between Post Clinton, Put-in-Bay,
Kelleys Island, North Bass, Middle Bass, and Rattlesnake Islands.
This adds up to an incredible 9,000 landings or take-offs yearly.
Island Air Lines has never had a fatality. Company officials say
that they have no idea how many engines their two Geese have worn
out. This line is unique in another way ... it is the only airline
in the country to have a contract" with a school board. During the
school year, a Goose makes like a school bus twice a day for kids
living on Lake Erie islands.
Five Geese in the Northwest
serve in re-forestration, forest fire control, and as general freight
haulers. Others are scattered about the United States and Latin
A few may be flying overseas. A number were sold
to China, the Netherlands, Australia, Czechoslovakia, Romania and
Spain. There have been reports of one in Russia. One is known to
have helped in the rescue of British soldiers at Dunkirk. One was
destroyed by enemy fighter planes while evacuating wounded from
Bataan, another met a like fate in the Philippines.
all this does not mean that the Goose will soon be extinct. Although
Bill Stout is gone, a West Coast company has been preparing to put
the venerable old craft into production again. Henry Ford II generously
supplied to Hayden Aircraft Corporation of Gardena, California,
all original blueprints and design data of the plane. Hayden plans
to make the same old Goose.
A preliminary market study,
conducted in Australia, Canada, and Alaska, indicated more than
a hundred orders for the plane; biggest market is expected to be
Latin America. The young men at Hayden Aircraft speak of an overall
production potential of 1,000 airplanes.
Hayden plans some
minor changes to the original, things dictated by the Goose's years
of flight experience. The new Ford trimotor will be equipped with
450-hp Pratt and Whitney R-985 engines. She will have a prettier
rudder (we're a'gin it!), modem instrument panel, Oleo shocks. A
wide cargo opening, switched to the left side of the fuselage, will
replace the original passenger door.
The prototype tested
at Santa Ana Airport met all F.A.A. requirements. The test model
gets off the ground easily in 850 feet, fully loaded; her top speed
is in excess of 150 mph. Rate-of-climb is over 1,000 feet per minute.
Lloyd Saunders, an official of the company, says that they are going
to call it the Stout Bushmaster. We imagine it will still be known
as the Tin Goose.
Posted January 4, 2014