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Vintage aircraft stops in Rochester for three days, offers public flight tours

The Experimental Aircraft Association stops in Rochester with its Historic Ford Tri-Motor Aircraft as a part of a country-wide showcase of the plane.

Flight in a 1928 Ford Tri-Motor
The 1928 Ford Tri-Motor pilotted by Bill Thacker flies overhead as it takes off from Rochester International Airport on Thursday, July 14, 2022.
Tucker Allen Covey / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — From a thousand feet up, you get a different perspective on Rochester.

Viewing the city from that angle – and doing so in 1920s style – is what the Experimental Aircraft Association is offering this weekend.

The EAA and Liberty Aviation Museum have brought to town a 1928 Ford Tri-Motor, the first mass-produced airliner. The visit to Rochester is part of the groups' mission to tour the country with the historic aircraft and give people the opportunity to experience aviation history first-hand.

“We are taking you back in time,” Bill Thacker, the pilot of the Tri-Motor and EAA member, said.

Ducking inside the plane, passengers see the narrow plane aisle lined with 11 forest green seats and golden curtains with tassels atop each window. According to Thacker, the plane seats are the only thing that is not identical to the planes originally flown in the years following 1928 as they were initially furnished with bamboo and wicker seats.

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Flight in a 1928 Ford Tri-Motor
Pilot Bill Thacker talks to the passengers on his 1928 Ford Tri-Motor after landing at Rochester International Airport on Thursday, July 14, 2022.
Tucker Allen Covey / Post Bulletin

Thacker said a flight across the country at the time would have cost about $600, or $16,000-$20,000 in today's dollars.

For those in Rochester looking to secure a seat on a flight while the plane is here through Sunday, the airfare is between $55 and $80. That's quite a deal for the public who might be looking to fly in a plane historically only accessible to the most wealthy people.

Built in 1928, the plane looks are reminiscent to those of which you would see in an old black and white film. In fact, it was one black and white film, “Only Angels Have Wings,” that inspired a couple to come out to the Rochester International Airport and take a trip on the historic airplane, a similar model to the Ford Tri-Motor seen throughout the 1939 film.

Taking a seat in the plane puts passengers at about a 45-degree incline with the ground and if they look outside the window, passengers will find themselves seeing eye-to-eye with one of the three propellers. One of the plane’s features as described by Thacker is not having to choose between an aisle and window seat as “you can have both.”

Before taking off with his co-pilot for the first flight, the executive director of the Downtown Rochester Alliance, Holly Masek, Thacker told passengers to expect the plane’s engines to sound like a “deep throated rumble,” which turned out to be a fairly accurate description.

Flight in a 1928 Ford Tri-Motor
Parts of Downtown Rochester and Thursdays Downtown can be seen from the window of the 1928 Ford Tri-Motor pilotted by Bill Thacker on Thursday, July 14, 2022.
Tucker Allen Covey / Post Bulletin

While the plane is definitely louder than the average commercial flight, and the seats tend to vibrate like a massage chair, there are not many differences between flying in the 1928 aircraft and the commercial plane more common nowadays.

Before the flight took off, Thacker said the main differences between the two types of aircrafts are in the 1928 aircraft, you will be able to “feel air rushing over the wings.”

While this was a once in a lifetime experience for some people, others came out with families as a part of a bigger family tradition.

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Korey Holtan lives in Stewartville, Minnesota, and has a long-held interest in aviation, which started with his parents, who were both in the Air Force and would take him out to the EAA’s annual AirVenture celebration in Oshkosh, Wis.

“Growing up, going there every year got me into aviation,” Holtan said.

Flight in a 1928 Ford Tri-Motor
Parts of Downtown Rochester and Thursdays Downtown can be seen from the window of the 1928 Ford Tri-Motor pilotted by Bill Thacker on Thursday, July 14, 2022.
Tucker Allen Covey / Post Bulletin

As Holtan showed photos from last year’s AirVenture, he described how he flew in one of the historic Tri-Motors a few years ago with his daughter, who at the time was a baby. Now he is back with both his daughter and his son to fly on the Tri-Motor again.

While he can promise every passenger a trip back in time, Thacker said, some off the different feelings people step off the plane with are nostalgia and euphoria.

“Everybody that comes off the plane is going to take away a little something different,” Thacker said.

If you go

Flights are offered 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday-Sunday at Rochester International Airport, 7600 Helgerson Drive SW.

Cost: Minors age 17 and younger, $55; adults with advance booking or AirVenture passengers, $80; walk-up adults, $85.

For more information, visit eaa.org/shop/Flights/FlyTheFord.aspx .

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Flight in a 1928 Ford Tri-Motor
The shadow of the 1928 Ford Tri-Motor pilotted by Bill Thacker set against a field as it returns to Rochester International Airport on Thursday, July 14, 2022.
Tucker Allen Covey / Post Bulletin

Bella Carpentier is a journalism and political science student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (UMN-TC). She is currently the managing editor of the student-run paper at UMN-TC, the Minnesota Daily. While reporting for the Minnesota Daily, she covered student activism and issues affecting the university's student body. Working for the Post Bulletin, Bella hopes to build community connections and advance her reporting skills. Readers can reach Bella at bcarpentier@postbulletin.com.
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