By Steve Robinson | May 2, 2021 - 10:04 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – The aircraft flew as any other would – buzzing past Illinois State University’s quad and Uptown Normal, giving its passengers a bird’s eye view of Illinois Wesleyan University’s Tucci Stadium, and the Shoppes At College Hills, State Farm’s corporate headquarters, Eastland Mall, and assorted vehicles moving along Veteran’s Parkway. But it wasn’t a modern aircraft by today’s standards. For openers, in addition to no overhead compartments, it only sat 12 people.

While that doesn’t sound like an aircraft people would be accustomed to these days, flight enthusiasts received the chance to step back in time Friday at a hangar near the Prairie Aviation Museum near Central Illinois Regional Airport thanks to Oshkosh, Wis.-based Experimental Aviation Administration. EAA and the Museum arranged for a 12-seat 1928 Ford Tri-Motor airplane to come to town to give flight historians and others curious about such aircraft the chance to see and even take a short trip in the aircraft.

“It’s a beautiful plane, that’s for sure,” Bloomington resident Loren Leiseberg said. He added his curiosity of it and the beauty of the plane drew him to come out to see it. “I kind of like older things like that and antiques and art deco type things. This plane is just beautiful.”

On the inside, Leiseberg added, he admired its features which included an all-wood interior, art deco lamps, and the uphill slant passengers needed to adhere to getting to their seats once they climbed aboard. Powered by an original Pratt & Whitney Wasps 420 horsepower engine, and a cabin length of 18 feet 9 inches with a single seat on either side of the aisle, and small overhead lamps at each seat, it must have made those who took the trip nostalgic to think about grandparents taking such flights. The plane’s wingspan is 77 1/2 feet.

It wasn’t just older folks who had curiosity about the plane, either. Zachary Slater, 19, said he has been interested in planes since he was a child and came with his grandparents, Cole and Cherie Slater to check it out, too. “I’ve been interested since I was a little boy and I have seen this plane for what feels like half my life. I’m into old airplanes. They are my favorite planes of all because I love how they handle.”

Zachary wasn’t the only young person for whom there was a curiosity about the vintage aircraft. Hannah Holmes, a senior at Bloomington High School, joined her father, Tom Holmes for the trip, too.

“This Ford Tri-Motor, if you’re an enthusiast, is just a great plane to see,” Tom Holmes stated. “It’s a real piece of nostalgia that runs real well, and to be able to ride on that plane is something else, and I’m really looking forward to it.” He added he is an enthusiast who used to fly when he was younger, and once you have flown, he explained, “It gets in your blood.”

“Any enthusiast likes the earliest planes and the Ford Tri-Motor was a more luxurious plane for its time,” Holmes said. “What I like about it versus the modern era is it has big engines. Each engine is like 9 Harley Davison engines on one engine. And this has three engines, so that’s 27 Harleys, so you can feel the sound go right through you, and for a flight enthusiast, that’s a real exciting thing,” he said with a chuckle.

Hannah herself got a front row seat for the flight, boarding and walking the uphill aisle to the seat in the cockpit right next to the trip’s pilot and Chenoa resident Bill Thackery. When asked after the flight if she would like to be a pilot someday after sitting in a cockpit, she smiled and said, “Now I do, definitely.” She said the view of the area from that vantage point “was amazing.”

She will soon attend University of Wisconsin where she wants to major in biomedical engineering. She added if she leans toward the engineering angle of her degree once she graduates, she could be involved in how planes are built. The biomedical aspect of the degree has to do with things related to creating prosthetic devices, she explained.

When Thackery, who first flew a plane at age 16 isn’t piloting such trips in nostalgic aircraft on a volunteer basis for EAA, he said he’s a commercial pilot who will soon be retiring. His regular job has him in the cockpit at the controls of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner Wide-body twin-engine jet airliner.

He isn’t the only pilot in the family, either, as his wife, Janice, and their two children are also pilots.

Thackery said he is a member of EAA’s Air Tour Team which takes planes like the Ford Tri-Motor and others like World War II-era B-17s and B-25s around the country, letting folks see them for themselves.

He said his background includes a love of old airplanes which gave him a chance to fly aircraft like DC-3s when the Prairie Aviation Museum had one here. With previous experience with older aircraft, he said he learned to fly aircraft similar to the Ford Tri-Motor “without a lot of additional training.”

He added that once he retires from being a commercial pilot, that will give him more time to fly planes like the Ford Tri-Motor more, helping curious aircraft enthusiasts learn more about vintage aircraft.

Thackery said his love of aviation began as a child building airplane models and hanging them from his bedroom ceiling in his native Ohio. He said when he came of age in the 1970s, that decade saw people with an increased interest in people who wanted to learn to fly. “People don’t realize how many people learned to fly in that decade.” He said presently, though, a shortage of pilots is in progress.

Thackery said he considers himself “blessed” by the tools he gets to use in his vocation and his volunteer work. “I marvel at both of them,” he said. “I get to fly the latest, hottest, newest airplane that’s being produced right now, and I get to fly the first airplane that was produced to be an airliner. I’m pretty lucky and I think about that whenever I get into either one of these cockpits.”

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