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Historic plane to offer adults, kids rides when it visits NP

May 24, 2019

The opportunity to fly on a Ford Tri-Motor aircraft should excite area historic-plane aficionados and anybody who wants to experience the golden age of aviation.

From June 6-9, rides will be offered for adults and children at the North Platte Regional Airport, Lee Bird Field, according to a press release from FlyTheFord.org. Rides will be available from 2 to 5 p.m. June 6 and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 7-9. Cost is $72 for adults with advance online registration at FlyTheFord.org, $52 for children 17 and under.

The Ford Tri-Motor 5-AT-B, Serial Number 8, was delivered to its first owner, Transcontinental Air Transport, on Jan. 18, 1929. It was named the City of Wichita and used to introduce the first coast-to-coast passenger air/rail service in the United States on July 7, 1929, and the development and inauguration of the first all-air passenger service on Oct. 25, 1930.

In April 1931, ownership of the aircraft was transferred to Transcontinental and Western Air. Here the aircraft helped in the development of TWA’s route system.

On July 16, 1935, TWA sold NC9645 to Grover Ruckstell, who flew passengers with Grand Canyon Airlines of Arizona. In February 1937, the aircraft began flying passengers with Boulder Dam Tours.

In the late autumn of 1937, the aircraft was sold to Transportes Aéreos del Continente Americano (Air Transport of the American Continent), or TACA, of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The aircraft was registered in Nicaragua as AN-AAS, where it flew for TACA until 1946 when it was sold to Ricardo Izurienta of Campeche, Mexico, and flown commercially under Mexican registry XA-FUB (XA designating it as a commercial registration). In 1950, Izurienta sold the aircraft to his brother, Arturo D’Argence, also of Campeche, Mexico, and it was registered as XB-NET (XB designating it as private ownership).

In May 1951, the aircraft was completely overhauled by Servicios Aeronauticos de Mexico, SA of Mexico City. During the overhaul, the corrugated skin was replaced with modern Dural sheet metal and the aircraft acquired its nickname “The Smooth Skin Ford.” XB-NET was back to flying status in late 1951. In January 1954, it was damaged when a wheel locked, turning the aircraft off a runway and into a ditch. This time the aircraft was not repaired but sold “as is” in poor condition to Frank D. Oergel of Burbank, California, who in turn sold it to Eugene Frank, who placed it in storage in Caldwell, Idaho.

In July 1964, a full restoration of the aircraft began and the corrugated skin was reinstalled at great expense by its new owner, William F. Harrah (Harrah’s Club of Reno, Nevada). After the extensive restoration was completed in 1971, the aircraft flew once again before being placed on static display with Harrah’s Automobile Collection. In 1975, TWA flew the aircraft from Reno to Newark, New Jersey, a transcontinental flight to commemorate their first all-air service of 1930. After William Harrah’s death in 1978, the aircraft remained in the collection until 1986, when it was sold at auction for $1.5 million to Norton Aero Ltd., of Athol, Idaho.

In February 1990, the Ford Tri-Motor was acquired by Evergreen Vintage Aircraft. It was modified for static line parachute jumping in 1998 before it was eventually placed on display in the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum of McMinnville, Oregon. Many tourists of the museum may recall seeing the little “Tin Goose” displayed beneath the wing of the huge Howard Hughes H-4 Hercules transport, also known as the “Spruce Goose.”

On Feb. 10, 2013, the Liberty Aviation Museum of Port Clinton, Ohio, purchased N9645 for its collection. The aircraft is currently on loan to the EAA Aviation Foundation, while it is toured throughout the U.S. offering rides to the public.

For more information about Ford Tri-Motor NC9645, see FlyTheFord.org.

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