I recently visited my Ford 4AT Tri-Motor project going together slowly in Michigan at Great Lakes Aviation. It had an interesting history and was flown by Island Airways to haul school kids and mail from Port Clinton, OH to a small island in Lake Erie. They owned several Fords over the years and this was the first one they purchased and the last one they sold as it had smaller and more fuel-efficient engines for what they needed it for. I acquired the aircraft in the late 1980′s and flew it back from California to Florida in only 4 1/2 days!
Unfortunately, this was one of my aircraft that was highly damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The day before the Hurricane, I flew it down to the Homestead Airport about 20 miles away and put it in a big concrete hangar with many other aircraft looking to dodge the storm. That night it hit landfall as only one of two Catagory 5 Hurricane’s ever to hit our country with sustained winds of 165 mph, gusting to almost 200! After several days of disbelief and digging out of the collapsed hangar at the Weeks Air Museum, I borrowed a small plane and flew down to check on the Ford. I was in shock when I got there. The hangar doors had all blown off, an 18-wheel semi-tractor trailer fuel truck had been blown over on its side, pushed all the way across the hangar floor by the wind, and then smashing into the Ford! The fuselage was twisted in half aft of the passenger door and both wings had been ripped off!
It had been several years since I had seen the project and great progress had been made on the center-section and wing panels. It has been somewhat of a slow restoration because I have another Ford 5AT Tri-Motor to fly at Fantasy of Flight. On one of my early visits, while the fuselage was going together, I happened to notice they were riveting the skins on with AN470 Universal head rivets. These rivets became popular around WWII but the Ford had been built in 1928. I questioned this and asked, knowing full well the answer, “Didn’t they use round head rivets originally?” The owner replied, “Yes, but when the aircraft had been damaged previously in an accident it had been repaired with the later rivets.” I made them drill all the rivets out and replace them with the original round-style head!
When completed, it will sport a washroom with a wooden toilet complimented by a small sign, “Don’t use the toilet over populated areas!” It will also be the only airliner in the world I know of where a passenger can slide their window back and hang their arm out the side!