On Your Side takes flight in an 87 year old plane

Posted at 6:53 PM, Sep 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-15 23:53:04-04
The Roaring 20s returned to Idaho Thursday in the form of a significant piece of aviation history.
An historic 1928 Ford Tri-Motor, touring the country, made a stop in Nampa, offering an opportunity for the public to see the airplane and passengers to experience flight aboard the world’s first mass-produced airliner. 

The Ford Tri-Motor or the “Tin Goose” was first built by the Ford Motor Co. in the late 1920s. This Ford Tri-Motor, NC9645, was constructed in 1928 and has an intriguing history, with roles ranging from service as airliner over the Grand Canyon in the 1930s, hauling passengers and freight in Central America, and a showpiece as part of the legendary Harrah’s auto and aircraft collection in Nevada.


Ford Tri-Motors have a rich history with the Gem State.  The Ford’s high lift wing and 3 engines made them good backcountry heavy haulers.  They were also well suited for smokejumping.


J. Charles "Black Hawk" Blanton was one of the smokejumpers who flew on a Ford Tri-Motor during his time as a jumper from 1947-1951, but he said this plane, "The Spirit of Wichita," was just a bit different.


"It's a lot different feel when you've got seats as opposed to all being cleared out and we had our fire packs to sit on,"  Blanton recalled Thursday.


Blanton was not alone on the flight.  He was joined by several other former smokejumpers who are part of the "Leaping Legends," a group which meets every month to tell stories of their days in the air and on the fire lines. 


Lloyd Johnson, also on board, is a 100-year-old former smokejumper.  Johnson founded the McCall Smokejumper base.  He hasn't jumped since the early 1950s, but says he wouldn't have missed this chance to climb back into a Tri-Motor.


Johnson had an observation about the plane which carried 10 passengers into the friendly skies Thursday.


"We didn't have all the garbage because we wanted to be light," Johnson reflected.  He clarified that by garbage he meant seats. 


Thursday's flight was a trip down memory lane for the former jumpers, who fondly remember their time together.


"We were the first band of brothers," said Blanton.


Though you won't be able to jump from a Ford Tri-Motor, you can take a flight.  Flights out of the Nampa Airport run Friday through Sunday.  Tickets purchased in advance are $70 for adults; walk up tickets are $75 and $50 for children 17 years old and under.

The Tri-Motor is hosted by the SW Idaho Chapter 103 of the EAA and the Warhawk Air Museum.