By Carol Cooke
Earlier this month, the historic Ford Tri-Motor visited EAA Chapter 565 in Punta Gorda, Florida, to give scenic flights. It was a hectic, fun-filled four days, with the Ford giving 566 people lasting memories during the 53 flights that pilot Dave Ross made. The Ford originally had a crew of two pilots and a stewardess, but the 5-AT that came to Punta Gorda now flies with one pilot only, leaving room for 10 passengers and an open copilot’s seat.
There were a couple of memorable events during this time frame. Saturday afternoon after registering, Bruce Saulnier returned to the desk, flashed a ring, and said there was going to be a marriage proposal on board Flight 13. Registrars Patti Ross and Mary Rae Main determined there was one seat left on that flight, so Ron Cooke (volunteer ops manager) was brought into the scheme to strategically place our photographer Scott Sorensen on board to capture the event. During the flight, Captain Dave throttled back so bride-to-be Ann Roberts would be able to hear, and gave the word to Scott, who nodded to Bruce to proceed. When she said yes, everyone on board was as excited as the happy couple, and when the flight landed, Bruce completed the proposal by getting on one knee beside the airplane. Lots of fun!
One of the other memorable happenings was when 104-year-old Ervin Yoas showed up and told the group he used to fly and maintain the Ford Tri-Motor aircraft. Ervin was too young to serve in World War I, too old for World War 2, but he did instruct on B-25s, and his whole life revolved around aviation. Really interesting gent, and we were glad to give him a flight.
A few months prior, our chapter executive had decided it was time to have the 1928 Ford Tri-Motor visit KPGD again (as it had been five years), and event coordinator Larry McClure, EAA 739446, made the arrangements with EAA. When it was mentioned at our chapter meeting, many members volunteered to help out. As we have many Canadian members who winter in Florida, one of the things we enjoy about Chapter 565 is the camaraderie between the local and snowbird pilots. Ron Cooke, EAA 453139, was appointed the operations manager in charge of scheduling, training, and assigning specific jobs. Larry as media liaison arranged for publicity, and the radio, newspaper, and local TV stations totally supported the endeavor by providing exceptional publicity. Our first clue that it was going to be a busy weekend was when we found out we had 100 flights presold.
The weather cooperated throughout the weekend, as it usually does in southwest Florida during February, and a steady stream of excited passengers were directed to parking and the registration desk to sign up for a flight. The extra cost copilot’s seat was sold out for every flight. Doug Williams, EAA 217233, and his crew sold burgers and soda to while away the wait time. We had 40 members volunteer over the four-day period, with half working two shifts or more. John Eiler did most of the safety briefings over the four days. My husband Ron and I, Larry, Ken, and Scott practically lived at the airport during the Ford visit. Chapter President Stan Smith, EAA 1168579, treasurer Ned Rose, EAA 712363, and event manager Ken Dieffenbach, EAA 558720, were available to fill in as needed.
There are eight airworthy Tri-Motors in the country, although not all fly actively. EAA’s Ford Tri-Motor, as well as the Tri-Motor EAA leases from the Libery Aviation Museum in Port Clinton, Ohio (which came to Punta Gorda), are the two that tour. Dave Ross is one of 19 Tri-Motor pilots located across the lower 48 states, and it was great to get to know Dave and Patti over the busy weekend. We’ll look forward to seeing them again in a couple of years when we can hopefully get on the schedule to host this historic aircraft once more.