The Ford Trimotor was a pioneer of the airline industry, flying from coast to coast in 1929 with Transcontinental Air Transport, one of the earliest passenger carriers. Learn the fascinating story in this original 1929 newsreel.
Founded in 1928 by aviation entrepreneur Clement Melville Keys, a leading player in the development of air travel in America, Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) formed the kernel of what eventually became TWA. In July of 1929, TAT launched the first coast-to-coast commercial passenger flights in America. But there was an asterisk attached to the feat, as we shall learn in this film: Three legs of the route were actually accomplished via luxury rail cars. The complete journey from New York City to Los Angeles or San Fransisco took around 51 hours, soon shortened to just 48 hours.
The aircraft of choice for this daring commercial experiment was, of course, the Ford Trimotor. A product of the Stout Metal Airplane Division of the Ford Motor Company, the all-metal airliner was engineered by William B. Stout, who later designed the Stout Scarab automobiles. Henry and Edsel Ford (especially Edsel) took a keen personal interest in the Trimotor effort, which occupied the northwest corner of Ford Airport, later to become Ford’s Dearborn Proving Grounds (above). For a moment or two in the late ’20s, Ford was ranked as the largest commercial aircraft builder in America. One of the original buildings is still in use today as the Ford Experimental Engines laboratory.
The original Ford Trimotor production aircraft, model 4-AT, was powered by three Wright Whirlwind radial engines, carried a crew of three—pilot, co-pilot, and steward—and could accommodate up to 12 passengers. While the Tin Goose, as it was known, was quickly rendered obsolete as a first-tier commercial airliner, it played a critical role in the development of passenger air travel. But this awesome little historical clip, which opens with some original 1929 newsreel footage, sets the scene better than we can. Enjoy the video.