By Timothy P. Wood, EAA 188045
St. Louis summers are typically hot and humid, perfect for corn farmers and tolerable for morning and late afternoon flying. This summer of 1968 was no exception. My older brothers and I, all bitten by the flying bug and home from college/high school, were regulars at the local Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) flying field with control line stunt and slow combat aircraft. We would pool our money to buy five percent nitro-methane fuel by the gallon to save money ($3.99 plus tax then). Especially noteworthy, this day we got out early, and burned nearly a gallon with no damage, so we only needed more fuel and crepe paper!
My dear mother is farm born-and-raised, and has never lost her love for fresh sweet corn. At the time, Spirit of St. Louis Airport (KSUS) was encompassed by farmland that provided the best sweet corn in the area, if not the state. As good sons, and celebrating that day’s flying fortune, we wanted to treat her to some sweet corn, and gawk at real airplanes. Off we went.
Nearing KSUS, we noticed significant activity. Local radio indicated an air show was in progress. Sweet!
With two dozen ears of corn from the local farm stand, we drove toward the airport. A three-engine high wing aircraft was just turning final and my brother stopped the car for a clear view. It projected a unique symphony, and looked very sturdy, somewhat reminiscent of our Eads Bridge in St. Louis. We recognized it as a Ford Tri-Motor.
Parking in a harvested corn field, we headed toward air show center. A sign indicated that Capt. Dale Glenn from Lawrence, Kansas, was offering rides in his 1929 Ford for an affordable price. After we’d viewed several flights, the three-engine plane tempted us to get our first taste of personal flight. My dear father was a 120-percent passenger railroad guy, blaming the fall of train travel on aviation. He was not going to be happy.
My eldest brother pointed out that three engines quitting at the same time was very unlikely. We concurred and again pooled our money for the tickets to ride the “Tin Goose,” NC8407.
My seat was the most forward right side by engine number three. During start and as we taxied, I noticed the oil pressure and temperature gauges on the nacelle! That caught me as very interesting and wondered how the flight crew checked them during flight. The first officer must have been a busy guy!
The flight was conducted at low altitude due to the limited duration, and I will never forget the people on the ground looking up and waving.
Both brothers remind me that, for two days after the flight, all I really said was “WOW”! Moving on, then came Parks College of Aeronautical Technology in Cahokia, Illinois, and both A&P mechanics certificates, and, thanks to a classmate, my private pilot certificate.
Having purchased a hail-damaged Taylorcraft BC-12D to build my résumé, I found a truly capable tailwheel instructor and learned to really fly antique aircraft, even on skis. I flew the restored airplane to Oshkosh for several years with my son as first officer and navigator as he soloed it on his 16th birthday, We noticed the Ford giving rides and I mentioned he needed to “Fly the Tri” for its unique perspective.
Fast forward to 2011, at KCPS in Cahokia, Illinois.
NC8407 was on a scheduled tour to support her maintenance and future care. I was able to get a flight in the right seat due to my experience in many antique tailwheel aircraft — and it didn’t hurt that the pilot also owned a T-craft.
On September 14, 2011, I was reunited with my first aviation love and led the dance this time! After the flight, the passengers gave the captain kudos, he winked and smiled at me for keeping the ball centered and asking for trimming help when I needed it. I now have 20 minutes of dual noted in my logbook in which I take great pride, and cherish the memories.
What have I learned from flying? Watch for any opportunity that presents itself, especially maintenance training, so you can better determine whether an airplane is safe. Also, find new and old types to fly, as each has lessons for you.
Anyone denying themselves the NC8407 experience, might eventually feel regret. The great lady has new wings, the highest quality maintenance, and professional flight crews.
Think about it — my brothers and I are glad we did!