Ford Tri-Motor History


"Clear, One!" yells Captain Bryan Godlove as the cough and sputter of the first of three powerful 450hp Pratt and Whitney Wasp R-985 engines start and all 27 cylinders crank an incredible roar from the front of the vintage 1929 Ford Tri-Motor (N414H, 5-AT-74) airplane. It’s her birthday and what a way to celebrate! Serial number 74 and the 155th of 199 Ford Tri-Motor’s ever built, found flight for the first time on September 4, 1929 and probably with as much excitement surrounding it as it does even today. I think to myself, “I hope I look this good when I’m seventy-five!” Out of possibly seven remaining air worthy Tri-Motors and even after 75 years, the “Tin Goose” still takes to the air a few times a year under the command of a select few with the skills to handle her. With Bryan in the left seat and me as his co-pilot in the right, I make a mental note that both of our ages combined are still just short of the age of the airplane. In the cabin, the excited group of ten passengers stares outside at the crowd as we taxi for departure. We all can only imagine what it must have been like to fly a similar Ford Tri-Motor from coast-to-coast taking over 48 hours in its prime in 1929 on the first transcontinental flight from New York to Los Angeles.

Purchased new in 1929, the 5-AT-74 required a price of $55,000. Today, one could only guess as to her value. Grand Canyon Airlines, the direct descendant of Scenic Airways, began the first sight seeing flights of the Grand Canyon in 1927, and acquired its first of several Ford Tri-Motors from the Ford Motor Company in May of 1928. Later that fall the company set up operations in Phoenix, Arizona by purchasing five adjacent cotton farms from which it carved out an airport and named it Sky Harbor. On November 18, 1928, the first commercial flight from Sky Harbor was aboard the Ford Tri-Motor with the Rocky Point Fishing Club bound for Mexico. Company founder, Parker Van Zandt began an industry that now provides the sightseeing experience of Grand Canyon air tours to nearly 800,000 visitors a year, and Sky Harbor is one of the largest international airports in the United States with over 545,000 take-offs and landings a year with an annual economic impact of over 24 billion dollars.

1930s – 1940s

If the 5-AT-74 could speak, the stories the 5-AT-74 could tell of her incredible history. In her infancy from 1929 to 1931, the 5-AT-74 was one of the first Tri-Motors equipped with twin metal floats, accumulating nearly 250 hours as the Ford Motor Company's factory demonstrator as a seaplane on the Detroit River. Then sold to Pan Am in 1931, the 5-AT-74 flew scheduled routes out of Miami into Central America.

In 1935, the 5-AT-74 moved south of the border and began operations in Mexico City, for Cia Mexicana de Aviacion registered as XA-BCX and later XA-BKS. It came back to Pan American in 1936 and then back to Cia Mexicana de Aviacion. In May 1941, it moved further south to Guatemala operating for Cia Guatemalteca de Aviacion in Guatemala City. The 5-AT-74 stayed in Guatemala operating as LG-AFA until 1950.


Recovered by Robert Waltermire in March 1950, the 5-AT-74 was returned to the United States and was reconditioned for use as an aerial sprayer fighting a grasshopper plague. At this time Northwest Agricultural Aviation Corp out of Choteau, Montana operated it.

Between 1956 and 1959, the 5-AT-74 had a series of owners before finally falling into dereliction and disrepair in Florida. The 5-AT-74's salvation came at the hands of John and Katherine Louck of Monmouth, Illinois. When Louck found the aircraft in Florida, it was in less than pristine condition being described as "full of frogs, snakes, bugs, etc." He worked for two weeks cleaning and making the aircraft airworthy to ferry it to Monmouth, Illinois. A myriad of problems caused the trip to take 68 days covering 1700 miles. Louck bought the 5-AT-74 with the intention of barnstorming it, and he did! It was reported that in one year the 5-AT-74 carried 17,000 passengers, 2800 of which were carried in one five day period at Rockwell, Illinois. Louck carried a total of 100,000 passengers in the 5-AT-74 while he owned it.


During 1963, it was leased to TWA for a cross-country series of flights starting from Los Angeles, California to Newark, New Jersey. Total time in the air was 27 hours, 48 minutes and total en route was 54 hours, 7 minutes. In February 1965 Louck sold the 5-AT-74 to American Airlines in New York City. The 5-AT-74 was present at the New York City World's Fair in 1965.


Chuck LeMaster purchased her for barnstorming in the early 1970’s before selling her to Mr. Seibold for “a fairly large amount” in 1977. Shortly afterward it repeated its 1965 cross-country trek. This time it made the cross-country flight in company with a Scenic Airlines Twin Otter that was operating as a camera ship. Starting in Long Beach, California it flew to Las Vegas, Nevada. From there the 5-AT-74 flew over Lake Mead and Hoover Dam and on to fly the length of the Grand Canyon. The 5-AT-74 finished its cross-country trip in 7 days ending at New York's Kennedy Airport. While in New York, the 5-AT-74 flew over New York Harbor and past the Twin Towers and the Statue of Liberty. Later it flew on to East Hartford, Connecticut to appear at Pratt and Whitney's 60th anniversary celebration before returning to Las Vegas, Nevada.


During 1983, the 5-AT-74 was flown out of the San Fernando Airport by Art Scholl and Bernie Godlove during a brief movie career in which it appeared in the movie "To Be or Not To Be". Its beautiful rainbow was temporarily painted out by dozen's of cans of women's silver hairspray in order for it to represent Hilter's personal German Ju-52. Bernie was the senior (number 1) captain at United Airlines system wide, with over a thousand hours in the Ford. He also headed up a 'type rating' program, as a type rating was required to fly the airplane commercially. Many commercial pilots simply wanted the honor of having "FO-5" (the designator of the Ford Tri-Motor 5AT series) stamped on the back of their licenses. One of those commercial pilots was Bernie's son, Bryan, who is the Captain of the Ford today! Bryan has been at the controls for over twenty years and also has over one thousand hours in the Ford. Bryan's thirteen-year-old son, Kelby, is an up and coming pilot and hopes to someday be the third generation Godlove at the controls of 5-AT-74.