NOTE: Mike and I just returned Sunday from an 18-day, 4,533 mile road trip that took us in a loop from Florida to Minnesota by way of Ohio and Michigan and back again. The objectives were to deliver family furniture (first – and hopefully last – time hauling a trailer 2100 miles…) and spend time with family in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
While in Dearborn, Michigan we went to the Henry Ford Museum. Because both of us contracted bad colds on the trip, we’d made the decision to not stop at the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio on our way home, which made sense given the sneeze factor yet was very disappointing. Fortunately, “the Henry Ford” as it’s called, took the edge off my desire to wander hangar after hangar in Dayton by featuring a really good aviation exhibit. I’ll share what I saw and photographed in three blogs.
This is one of two entryways to the Heroes Of The Sky exhibit at the Henry Ford. That’s a DC-3 (NC21728) hanging overhead.
When the aircraft was donated to the Museum in 1975, it had spent more time aloft than any other airplane in history (that record was later broken by – another DC-3!). The statistics about this airliner, which flew under the Eastern Airlines and North Central Airlines (later Northwest) logos, are pretty fun:
- It flew more than 12 million miles in 83,032 hours
- It went through 136 engines
- It used 550 main gear tires and 25,000 spark plugs
- It taxied more than 100,000 miles
The exhibit is organized by galleries – 1st Flight, Inventors, Explorers, Entrepreneurs, Barnstormers and Record Breakers. As I do when I get around airplanes, I just sort of wandered so my blog review will do the same.
I really liked the Wright Brother’s Flyer replica. The Museum’s curators set it up in sand and left tools nearby to replicate the actual conditions of the first flight on the dunes at Kitty Hawk. The detailed figures of Orville and Wilbur add to the drama of the moment. In fact, the beautifully crafted, life-sized figures positioned around many of the airplane exhibits really enhanced their impact.
Henry Ford was not an aviation buff. In fact, he only flew a handful of times. What he was, though, was a savvy businessman who saw opportunity in the budding post-WWI aviation industry. The first commercial airplane his company manufactured was the classic Ford Trimotor, starting in 1926. The Museum’s Trimotor (NX4542), named the “Floyd Bennett” is the one that Admiral Richard E. Byrd flew over the South Pole on November 28, 1929 during an 18-hour flight. He had brought three airplanes with him on the expedition, but this one was the first to fly over the Pole – ever.
Two years earlier, in 1926, Bryd had been one of many attempting to be the first to fly over the North Pole. This was his airplane for that expedition; Floyd Bennett was his pilot.
Edsel Ford sponsored the trip so the airplane was named after his daughter, Josephine. Airplane builder Anthony "Tony" Fokker wanted to be sure that people did not think that the airplane was a Ford trimotor so he painted “Fokker” on the fuselage and under the wings!
Byrd and Bennett claimed to have successfully completed an out-and-back flight to the Pole on May 9, 1926, but there is still controversy about whether or not they actually made it to the Pole. Byrd was an intense competitor!
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and others flew the airship “Norge” over the North Pole three days later. That flight is now popularly credited with being the first over that Pole with no controversy since they flew from Spitsbergen, Norway on to Alaska. The painted backdrop for the exhibit includes the "Norge" and its modified hangar (imagine building a hangar in those conditions...)
A note about Floyd Bennett: after the North Pole expedition, he was on the Byrd-led team which was preparing to cross the Atlantic non-stop for the first time in order to win the Orteig Prize. He was badly injured during a test flight landing (Byrd and others were slightly injured). Charles Lindbergh went on to set the non-stop record and Bennett developed pneumonia as a result of the crash. He was on a rescue mission – in a Ford Trimotor - in Canada when he died mid-flight. His co-pilot flew the remaining eight hours alone and the rescue was a success.
At the same time Henry Ford started building the Trimotor (1926), he also was thinking of the everyday aviator. He’d perfected the assembly line system that made the Model T car reasonably priced for most Americans, so why not do the same with an airplane? He ordered his engineers to come up with an airplane that could fit in his office! The result was the “Flivver.” Only three were built and only two men flew the one in the Museum – Ford test pilot Harry Brooks and Charles Lindbergh.
That’s it for this week. Next week’s blog will feature airmail, barnstormers, air races, groundbreakers, Lindbergh (as you’ve probably never seen him…) and more. See you then.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.