Trusted local news leader for Williams AZ and the Grand Canyon
Mon, July 06

Airline offering rides on history-making aircraft<br>

The general public will be able to ride this historic Ford Tri-Motor this coming weekend.

Flights of 10 to 15 minutes will be offered Saturday and Sunday starting at 10 a.m. Dillon said flights will also be offered on Labor Day Monday if demand remains high. The flights will be in the area of the airport and not in Grand Canyon airspace.

Seats are extremely limited. Advanced reservations are highly recommended by calling (866)2-FLY-GCA or 638-2-FLY.

The donation of $60, and $30 for locals, goes directly into maintaining and operating the plane.

“It’s extremely expensive to maintain,” said Dillon. “It uses 75 gallons of gas an hour and it’s almost nearly impossible to buy insurance for it, because it’s a relic.”

The Ford Tri-Motor was manufactured by the Henry Ford Motor Co. starting in 1929. In the four years that the plane was in production, only 199 were made and they could be had new for $55,000. Now worth between $3-4 million, there are only 20 left in the world and only three are flying, Dillon said. Another three or four are in some stage of restoration to return them to the skies. Those that aren’t flying are museum pieces, with one on display in the Smithsonian.

“This plane has a rich history,” Dillon said. “It was the first all-metal commercial airliner and was used by every major airline. It changed the history of aviation.”

It wasn’t the plane’s speed that made it famous -- it only flies 90 mph -- but how it ushered in the age of commercial aviation with a number of “firsts” including the first continental flight, traveling from New York to Los Angeles in 48 hours. Its construction was also revolutionary, being made of an alloy known as Duralmin and seating up to 15 passengers. Before that, planes were constructed of fabric on a framework and could only seat up to six people.

The plane owned by Grand Canyon Airlines is officially known as the 5-AT-74, N414H. It was the 155th built. Before it was bought by GCA owner John Seibold in the mid-1980s, it served as a seaplane, commercial airliner in the United States and South America and aerial sprayer to fight a grasshopper plague.

The plane also appeared in “To Be or Not to Be,” playing a German Ju-52. Dillon also has the plane as a Revell model and a remote-control aircraft, both bearing the N414H designator. A Microsoft Flight Simulator patch for the Tri-Motor is also available for download on the Internet.

“This plane has a huge following in the industry,” Dillon said. “Pilots on layovers in Phoenix come up to see it, and when we fly it from city to city, it’s like flying with Tiger Woods.”

Seibold bought the plane with the idea that it should be shared with the world. He took it on a cross-country trek from Long Beach, Calif., to Las Vegas, over Lake Mead and the length of the Grand Canyon, ending up in New York seven days later. The plane still flies three or four times a year as a promotional plane for Grand Canyon Airlines and for the history of aviation.

The plane has been piloted for 20 years by Capt. Bryan Godlove, who followed in the footsteps of his father, who flew the plane for 30 years.

Dillon said Godlove’s 12-year-old son Kelby is showing a keen interest in the aircraft and could well represent a third generation of pilots.

Grand Canyon Airlines’ history goes back as far as the Tri-Motor’s. The company started as Scenic Airways in 1926 and became Grand Canyon Airlines in 1927. In its earliest days, it occupied a hangar at the first local airport, at Red Butte. For the same reason that he bought the Tri-Motor – to preserve a piece of aviation history – Seibold is now negotiatingwith the former lessee of the Forest Service land to remove and restore the original hangar. It will likely be relocated to the airport in Valle, said Dillon.

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