By Brittany Lozier Moon, EAA 1435726
I paused at that door. The door marked “hangar” in a tiled lobby entrance way. A brown office door that holds a collection of the past at Indianapolis Metropolitan Airport. A door I have walked through numerous times. But this time it was different. This day had something else remarkable behind that door. I was more curious to see how they jigsaw-ed all the airplanes to fit, than to see the aircraft itself. But as I opened the door, I no longer cared about the jigsaw. I saw that rippled shine. Those beautiful radials. She was here. It was our turn to take a step into the past for the weekend. It was our turn to show off the Ford Tri-Motor to central Indiana.
As a chapter board member, earlier in the week, I picked up our pilot at the Indianapolis International Airport. On our way to the hotel, we basically shared our aviation life stories. How EAA has changed my life in the past year, how flying Chinooks in Hawaii and seaplanes in Alaska puts a perspective on life — you know, typical small talk between a rookie and a five-figured professional pilot. I knew my time with the Ford was going to be special.
Friday morning came with a beautiful fall sunrise that mirrored the leaves. I opened that brown office door and was transported into the past. That first step into the airplane is a step into a time machine. As you climb further up the aisle, you see just how far back we go. Almost 100 years. Steering wheels that have stood the test of time and the human strength needed to maneuver. The loss of paint that thankfully hasn’t been touched up. The simplicity of the instruments, just two more than normal. It was as if I stood on hallowed ground.
Watching the sun come up as she was rolled out of the hangar and down to the ramp was a magical moment. A moment that I knew the Ford had seen countless times over the years as she flew — a sunrise followed by passengers. It was a moment of anticipation as I was gifted the first flight of the day in the right seat. Chocks were pulled, each engine fired up one at a time, and we eagerly awaited for the engines to warm up while we checked out the D-shaped windows. Finally we could start to see and feel the warmth of the engines, so it was time to go. Being behind a radial for countless times in my life, you would think I would be used to the power and joy when you push that throttle forward. However, with three radials at more than 400 horsepower each, it was an enthralling, almost indescribable feeling.
Leveling out, I reluctantly took the controls, unsure if I could handle the sheer magnitude in size of the Ford. Plus, the idea of flying with steering wheels was a new feeling. However, if I didn’t take this opportunity, this moment, while right seat in the Ford Tri-Motor, I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life. The first thing I quickly learned was the physical fitness required to fly, the heavy controls exaggerated by the length of the cables and wires. Then I realized not a single person on the ground couldn’t not hear or see us. As the Ford Tri-Motor flew across the country in those early days, it came to me that perhaps those three radials, the rippled shine, was perhaps the first time someone flew in an airplane or even saw one. What an experience to witness.
I never landed that morning. As we started having more passengers arrive for their flights, I shared the pure joy that they were about to experience along with the required safety briefing. The day continued on as I shared stories with our tour managers of my life growing up and my remarkable experience at AirVenture. I was shocked when I was told that I would be once again in the right seat for the last flight of the day.
The sunlight and shadows were different. However, I was at ease on my second flight in the right seat. I knew my pitch, my instruments, the amount of rudder the Ford needed. It felt like I was a part of her, flying her for years. Once we landed, I knew that flight was truly special. A couple of the passengers saw me take the controls, realized that their flight was extended, and congratulated me, even requested for me to sign their tickets as a memory. I was given the pleasure of adding a full hour to my logbook piloting the Ford Tri-Motor. I like to think I was given perhaps a glimpse into my future.
My joyous day ended, but my time with the Ford wasn’t over.
Early Saturday morning came. My two boys, Vincent and Lincoln, knew it was time for them to volunteer. Being ramp rats or airport bums themselves, they knew from an early age how to treat aircraft. They eagerly climbed into the cabin, took a seat, and were mesmerized by the idea that the Ford had light switches! Being around vintage aircraft their entire lives, seeing an old airplane wasn’t anything new to them. But seeing the Ford Tri-Motor start each engine, then inhaling that wonderful aircraft smell, they quickly realized just how amazing it was to see. After volunteering that morning, we flew together as passengers while they experienced their first radial flight.
It was magical. The pure joy and excitement on their faces as they felt the power-up, the initial tail lift, and then the rotation. I challenged myself to hold back tears while watching them feel something for the first time that I have felt my whole life. The whoops and cheers were loud enough to be heard over the roar of the engines! As a mom and a pilot, I was proud to see their pilotage skills as they picked out landmarks such as our local living history museum, IKEA, and their favorite toy store. Well then again, aviation is in their blood! We landed and in typical fashion, I had to bribe my youngest to get out of the airplane as the next set of passengers boarded. I’m pretty sure he would still be in the Ford if I didn’t bribe him with some bacon. I wholeheartedly believe that flight formed a core memory, a high, that I hope they chase for life. That high that many of us still chase.
Overall, our chapter’s time hosting the Ford Tri-Motor was remarkable, one we wish to do again. Old members and our youngest members, many in high school, took to the sky in the Ford. Future aviators making memories themselves that they will be able to tell decades from now. Chapter members learning from each other, seeing each other in a different light that we sometimes don’t see during our pancake breakfasts. Fathers taking their children, some as young as one year old, to veterans understanding the mission of EAA’s air tours. Witnessing passengers’ faces as they exited the airplane in the early 2020s had to be like those in the late 1920s, each one smiling. Each passenger and volunteer leaving a mark on keeping the Ford in the air with the Ford reciprocating by imprinting a memory on the hearts of all its passengers. Especially mine.