EAA's Ford Trimotor 4-AT-E.

EAA’s Ford Trimotor, a 4-AT-E


Henry Ford continued his quest to revolutionize travel by introducing the world to air travel. The Ford Trimotor became the world’s first all-metal airliner. By the end of the Ford Trimotor’s commercial career, it had served  well over 100 airlines from all over the world. The Trimotor was also used in crop-dusting, fire fighting, advertising, carrying freight, as a troop carrier in the military and for exploring remote areas.

Forerunner to the Ford Trimotor

In April of 1925, after capturing the attention of Ford, the Stout Metal Airplane Company moved into a factory based at Ford Airport in Dearborn, Michigan. William B. Stout set to work modifying his single engine all-metal 2-AT design into the tri-engined 3-AT. The design of the 3-AT was poorly executed. After a few short flights, the test pilots refused to fly it. After Henry Ford witnessed one of those test flights he was quoted as saying, “This plane is a mechanical monstrosity and an aerodynamic absurdity. From now on keep Stout out of the design room.” A few days later, on January 16th, 1926, a “mysterious” fire destroyed the Stout factory and all of the aircraft inside.

Design of the Ford Trimotor

In a remarkably short period of time, the Ford Trimotor 4-AT was designed. It’s first test flight was on June 11th, 1926. The design of the Ford Trimotor changed so frequently that no two were exactly alike. In fact, the first four 4-ATs had open cockpits. Soon after production started, the early Ford Trimotors were retrofitted with enclosed cockpits. The 4-AT models used various combinations of the Wright Whirlwind and Wasp engines.

Specifications based on the Ford Trimotor 4-AT-A

Ford Trimotor 4-AT-B

Ford Trimotor 4-AT-B owned by Greg Herrick. It is the oldest surviving Trimotor.

  • Maximum Speed: 114 mph
  • Cruising Speed: 95-100 mph
  • Landing Speed: 59 mph
  • Climb Rate: 750 FPM
  • Service Ceiling: 15,000 ft.
  • Range: 500 miles
  • Gliding Ratio: 9.7
  • Wingspan: 74′
  • Length: 49′ 10″
  • Height: 11′ 9″
  • Fuel Capacity: 231 gallons
  • Empty Weight: 5937 lbs.
  • Gross Weight: 9300 lbs.

Ford Trimotor 5-AT

The Ford Trimotor 5-AT was designed and first flew in 1929. It used the more powerful Pratt and Whitney Wasp engines. The 5-AT had a higher seating capacity and  higher gross weight than the 4-AT models. The Ford 5-AT-D was the  seaplane variant and was fitted with Edo floats. Ford Trimotors were also put up on skis for winter operation.

Accidents and Incidents

On March 17th, 1929, a Colonial Western Airlines 4-AT-B Trimotor NC7683 suffered a double engine failure during its initial climb after takeoff from Newark Airport in New Jersey. It failed to gain altitude and crashed into a railroad freight car loaded with sand. The crash killed 14 of the 15 people on board the aircraft. At the time, it was the deadliest aviation accident in American history.

On April 21, 1929, a Maddux Air Lines 5-AT-B Trimotor, NC9636, collided with a United States Army Air Service Boeing PW-9D fighter over San Diego, California. All six on board both aircraft died.

On September 3, 1929, a Transcontinental Air Transport 5-AT-B Trimotor, NC9649, named “The City of San Francisco”, crashed into Mount Taylor near Grants, New Mexico in a thunderstorm. All eight people on board died.

On January 19, 1930, a Maddux Air Lines 5-AT-C Trimotor, NC9689, operating as Flight 7, crashed near Oceanside, California due to adverse weather conditions. The crash killed all 16 on board.

On June 24, 1935, a Trimotor of Servicio Aéreo Colombiano, C-31, collided with a Trimotor of SCADTA, F-31, at Olaya Herrera Airfield near Medellín, Colombia. Of the 20 on board both aircraft, only three passengers survived. Among the dead was the legendary tango singer Carlos Gardel.

Special thanks goes to Brittan Kirk, host of The Air Show, for the video.