Ford Trimotor: An Aviation Legend

by Linda Burdette, Feature Article Editor

It was the end of the barnstorming era. The frequency of accidents and fatalities created a great deal of public distrust of airplanes and led to the beginning of government regulation. Many World War I aircraft could not meet the new standards. But into the mix stepped one of the most inventive people in American history – Henry Ford. A famous designer, William B. Stout, had kindled the interest of both Ford and his son Edsel in aviation in 1924. Stout favored allmetal airplanes and based his designs on those of European Hugo Janker. In 1925, Ford bought Stout Metal airplane Company and adapted the traditionally single engined Stout design with three Wright air-cooled engines. (The later 5-AT model had more powerful Pratt & Whitney engines.) The Ford Trimotors were among the first to use an allmetal construction which was certainly more advanced than the standard construction techniques in the 1920’s. The all-metal construction allowed Ford to claim it was “the safest airliner around.” Its fuselage and wings were constructed of aluminum and corrugated for added strength although the incipient drag reduced overall performance. It was also unique in that the aircraft control surfaces were also made of corrugated aluminum, rather than fabric covered. Another unique characteristic was the hand-operated Johnson bar braking system, also known as the “Johnny Brake.” Like most other airplanes of this era, the rudder and elevator were controlled by wires strung along the external surface of the aircraft and the engine
gauges were mounted externally, on the engines, to be read by the pilot looking through the windscreen.

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