The Ford Tri-Motor

What can I say, this plane is now stuck in my head. You wouldn’t think by looking at it how revolutionary this plane was but the 4-At and 5-AT were big deals when they came out in the late 1920’s. One of the biggest problems with early aviation was getting people to believe that planes were safe. Henry and Edsel Ford did a amazing job to help promote safety and a big part of that was believing in William Stout, the engineer who first came up with the new monoplane design that eventually became the Ford Tri-Motor. While Stout’s original concept for the Tri-Motor was never used, elements were taken off of that plane and were incorporated in the Tri-Motor we know today. One of the biggest was the third engine which was there for safety in case one engine quit and power. Engines back then just weren’t the same as now.

The Tri-Motor became an American icon and sadly few remain. It didn’t help that only 199 were built but due to the planes reliability and tough overall structure over a dozen have survived in various forms of airworthiness. The best known plane is flown by EAA and can be seen at Oshkosh, WI every year. This particular one is owned by Kermit Weeks, part Fantasy of Flight, and is most well known for being in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. More importantly this plane made the first coast to coast flight while owned by Transcontinental Air Transport, the precursor for TWA.

The Ford Trimotor

There have been many iconic planes that have contributed to the history of aviation but one of the early contributors that can still be seen flying today is the Ford Trimotor. This all aluminum, 8-17 passenger plane with a crew of two, helped to usher in the era of early commercial transport and domestic routes. Developed in 1925 and first flew in 1926 the Ford Trimotor was used by many commercial operators throughout the United States, South America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and some European countries. It was then later used by Transcontinental Air Transport, later TWA, and Pan American Airways. It was in service until 1934 when the Boeing 247 and Douglas DC-2 enter service and eclipsed the Trimotor. The plane quickly was given the affectionate nickname of the Tin Goose.


In 1925 Henry Ford started the Ford Reliability Tour to showcase his renewed interest in aviation. Among the contestants was Anthony Fokker who entered the Fokker F.VIIa-3m tri-motor. With 3 200hp Wright J-4 Engines, Fokker’s trimotor easily won. Ford was inspired after the tour to develop his own airplane seeing the demand in the commercial airspace field. He started with a company he had previously invested in the Stout Metal Airplane Company owned by William B. Stout. Ford bought the company in 1925 and asked them to develop their already successful 2-AT mailplane, a single engine, all metal high wing aircraft, into a trimotor. The result was the 3-AT but failed and was mysteriously destroyed in a hangar fire. the 4-AT was a success and was further developed into multiple variants all the way to the 8-AT, with conversions of 4-AT and 5-AT planes into 9-AT, 11-AT, and 13-AT variants. A total of 199 Trimotors were built of which 18 are known to exist as of 2012.


The Ford Trimotor was built with an all aluminum surface including the flight controls which most planes at that time had fabric covered controls. The surfaces were built with 3 layers “Alclad” aluminum sheeting with the inner most layer of duralumin, which had pure aluminum coating on either side. This made the plane incredibly resilient to corrosion even at the joints and rivets. Adding to the ruggedness of the plane was the corrugated metal but the drawback being added drag which decreased performance of the aircraft. Other characteristics of the plane includes control cables routed outside the fuselage and engines gauges mounted of the cowlings for easier visibility. These and other features added to the ruggedness of the plane. The exterior design of the corrugated metal was so similar to the Junkers J-1 that in after the introduction of the Trimotor, Junkers sued Ford for patent infringement and won. Ford countersued in 1930 after attempting to export the Trimotor to Europe and lost a second time.


There was many notable flights with the Ford Trimotor including ones with Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Richard E. Byrd. The most widely known flights were made by Transcontinental who flew across the country with day trips by the Trimotor and sleeping berths on trains by night. A trip across the United States at that time would take 48hours. Pan Am used the Ford Trimotor most extensively to Central and South America with the first international trip from Key West, FL to Havana, Cuba.

Two of the most well seen Trimotors today are both hosted by the EAA. There 4-AT-E and 5-AT-B, the 5-AT-B belonging to Liberty Aviation Museum and leased out to EAA, are seen across the country as they are on tour during the summer months showing off the beauty of the early years of flight. The photos in this post are of Kermit Weeks 1929 5-AT Trimotor which can be seen at Fantasy of Flight.

Images Captured with Nikon D3, 24-70 AF-S, 70-300 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Photoshop World is Almost Here!

I can’t believe how fast time has gone by again and how quickly Photoshop World is approaching! Only a few more days and it’s time to fly down to Orlando. I’m writing this and my hands are trembling they are so excited. There is of course no better way to start out the week then with a Precon taught by some of the best instructors around.


These were taken a couple years ago at Fantasy of Flight where a previous Precon was held and where this years Photo Safari is being held again. The top is a Ford Trimotor and the bottom image is a PBY. These are just a couple of the amazing aircraft that are housed in the hangers of this unbelievable collection. What lays in store for us this time on the Safari with planes, people and even some rein-actors?! I don’t know but I can’t wait.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Recent Teachings

The more I work with aviation and other photographers, the more I have come to learn that it truly is one community. For those involved it is not only a privilege but also a joy to work with a part of history. It is therefore a goal of mine, as it should be with everyone, to try and give back even with something as simple as knowledge. For the last year I have been a part of ISAP which has been a great way to meet a lot of Aviation enthusiasts. It also provided me with an outlet to share some of the skills I have picked up.

November Issue

December Issue

For the last couple of issues I have been able to write a couple pages about simple techniques that can make a big impact on one’s photography. In general they are rather simple lessons but it is often those simple ones that can yield the greatest results. It may not seem like much, I mean one page and a couple images, nothing getting bought. However, you never know when a simple contribution like this can make a difference to someone else with a question. That’s why implore others to take the time and contribute to those small communities.

One More Parked in the Shed

Since I had some time and I wanted to get another plane up in the Gallery, i thought it would be good to bring in the Ford Trimotor. It’s another one of those really cool rare planes that is at Fantasy of Flight in Kermit’s collection. Didn’t have much time to play with the plane this past trip but at Precon in early April there was plenty of time to get a couple clicks.

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Fantasy of Flight Precon

Final found some time to get up a few images from the Precon on Tuesday. We had a new Precon that was all about aviation photography. It was another Moose and Joe show this time with the beautiful planes for the background. We had two stops along the way for this Precon first was at Fantasy of Flight, and amazing place with amazing planes, and second over at Stallion 51 which also had some amazing planes. Everything below is just from Fantasy of Flight with some more on the way.

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This “museum” which really isn’t a museum it’s a private collection that this guy Kermit Weeks lets people come and visit. The cool thing is that he has it set up like an amusement park so when you first enter is this giant reenactment. There is the World War I trenches you walk through the briefing room and of course the best part the B17 which is setup with displays as you walk through it. Once you get past all of this you come out into the actually hangers and in these hangers are a number of great aircraft. This is of course only a small fraction of the facility there is a lot more that is not open to the public, including the restoration hangers.

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Out on the ramp were two parked planes. The first one that caught my eye was the Ford Tri-motor, the plane above. This plane was used for commercial flying until the passengers could no longer take the bumpiness or the duration. It was eventually replaced for a more efficient plane. The amusing thing was there was a Stinson Tri-motor not far away behind the ford and those two were competing against one another. Shooting it was no challenge there were many ways. I literally did circles around the plane because there was so much too do. The clouds really made a difference they made everything pop. Without them, i probably would’ve blown this plane off. Background makes the shot.

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This guy is the Duck, a rather unique plane. This is an amphibious and ground plane. It could take off and land on both water and land. It is also a rare plane there are not many left flying in the world, even less in the United States. I’m not going to spend a whole of time here because in my next post I’m will be talking about just this plane.

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Alrighty moving right along with the day, walking around the ramp, talking with folks, helping wherever i could; te sound of an engine crank began and soon to follow was a plane getting ready to take off. Who would it be? None other than the biplane. At Fantasy of Flight is the option to take aerial tours. the plane of choice for doing such a tour is the Steerman. What better way to fly around Orlando than in a World War I Steerman. It is quite a sight. I always wonder how many people call the police department when they see those older planes a flying. Once again not a big trick to shoot. The only thing that you need to keep in mind is that the plane is moving so you must pan with the plane, keep the camera in shutter priority to get the prop blurred and the plane sharp. Anywhere under 1/250th shutter speed will get a blur, be careful with planes taxiing out they go slower. The only way to really get better at this is practice because most planes differ in the shutter speed needed.

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At last my favorite plane from the Precon and for that matter the whole vacinity, the PBY. This is truly a great plane. They were used for reconisance, air to sea rescue, and transport. They were very versatile, however they were not fuel efficient. This is a big ass plane and it has two engines which takes even more gas to keep it moving. Like most warbirds there are not many left and even less flying. It’s really too bad because they are great. The first half of the Precon was great. The planes were great, both static and flying, Joe did his lighting demo with the models which was a great tie in with the planes and the participants learned some things about aviation photography. However, we aren’t done yet!

Images captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 24-70, AF-S 70-300 Vr, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Images captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 24-70, AF-S 70-200, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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