The scientific tourist #106 — the Ford Trimotor

This week’s image is of a Ford Trimotor at the San Diego Air & Space Museum:

While the Trimotor was no huge leap in technological terms, it played a huge psychological role in popularizing civilian air travel. In the 1920’s, Henry Ford was viewed with awe as the man who made car ownership possible to the masses — his production lines rapidly produced reliable (for the time) cars at ever falling prices. So when Ford tried his hand at aircraft (by buying then improving on a design by William Stout) it brought a huge amount of credibility to the field.

The Trimotor was the U.S.’ first all-metal aircraft. While this type of construction was not unprecedented, it was an advance for passenger aircraft of the time, although accompanied by some anachronisms like control surfaces driven by external cables. Still, it was enough for Ford to bill the Trimotor as the safest aircraft flying — and combined with the craft’s rugged design, led to it opening the way to commercial air travel in the western hemisphere. The Trimotor could carry ten to twelve passengers in wicker seats with a range of 550 miles (although apparently the engine noise in the passenger compartment is nearly deafening).

In all, 199 Trimotors were produced between 1926 and 1933 in two main variants — of these, 18 still exist and 6 are still flyable.

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