DECATUR — Traveling in an old airplane can make a girl nervous, at least for 12-year-old Gabby Block.

“All of the safety stuff can make you nervous, like he gave precautions if we were to land in the water,” she said. “But it’s not as nerve-wracking as I thought.”

On Saturday, Gabby and her 10-year-old twin sisters Cassie and Anna visited the Decatur Airport to see of one of the country’s first luxury airliners, the Ford Tri-Motor.

The Block sisters were among nine passengers during a ride on the Tin Goose, a 4-AT-E airplane that first flew on Aug. 21, 1929.

The Decatur Airport is a stop on the nationwide tour by the Experimental Aircraft Association

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Guests got a look inside the cockpit of the Ford Tri-Motor airliner on Saturday. 

The flight took the girls all around Decatur, which included sights of Archer Daniels Midland Co. plant, Lake Decatur, downtown Decatur and the countryside.

“We’ve never been on a plane before,” Anna said. “And our parents want us to get on a plane soon.”

Although the plane was lacking the modern-day frills, their first flight was a thrill for the girls.

“I was glad there were window seats everywhere,” Gabby said.

“It was soothing and relaxing,” their mother Stephanie said about the ride.

The family traveled from Bement to see the piece of aviation history.

“The Experimental Aircraft Association does some great work preserving history,” Stephanie Block said. “This airplane has a long history of being a commercial airline, and it’s the foundation of aviation.”

The Tin Goose pilot, John Maxfield, has flown throughout the United States with the 90-year-old plane. The plane is one of six still in existence of the original 199 planes made.

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Samuel Logan, 4, peers out at the Decatur Airport, where the Ford Tri-Motor was stopped Saturday as part of a tour through the Experimental Aircraft Association. 

“The Ford Tri-Motor tours the country bringing aviation history to local neighborhoods,” he said.

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The plane that landed in Decatur was one of the first all-metal airliners. “It started the airline industry,” Maxfield said. “It was designed such so that it is a smooth-flying airplane.”

The airplane travels at about 100 miles per hour for three hours on a tank of gas. Since it does not have a fast speed, the rides are less bumpy compared to many modern flights. “We ride over more gentle waves,” Maxfield said.

According to Maxfield, the all-metal airplanes lasted longer as well. It had three engines and a control system similar to those used in airplanes today.

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James Barone, left, and Theressa Tozer check out the details of the 1929 Ford Tri-Motor on Saturday at the Decatur Airport. Both are from Decatur.

The passenger’s experience was considered first-class at the time with only nine available seats. “So every seat is a window and every seat is an aisle,” Maxfield said. “The luggage was stored in the wings.”

Maxfield travels to various locations throughout the country with another volunteer educating others about the Tin Goose. They rely on local volunteers for additional help.

Airport director Tim Wright was contacted by the EAA national organization to include Decatur as part of the tour. “They take these aircrafts to different airports so the communities can experience the aviation and flights,” he said.

The Tin Goose will be stopping at various airports this month until it reaches its destination at the EAA airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on July 22.

The airplane has regular maintenance and limited restoration, but otherwise it has most of its original parts and materials. It also has celebrity status, having been used in movies starring Johnny Depp and Jerry Lewis.

Although the plane is known in the aviation community, Wright is happy to see young ones attending the event. “It’s great to see the children come out and get close to the airplane,” he said.

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Bart Crockarell Vandyke, 2, checks out the inside of the 1929 Ford Tri-Motor airliner on Saturday at the Decatur Airport. 

The Block girls said they have been to several airshows in the past, so they were aware of what to expect when looking in the airplane.

The ride, however, was a different experience for each girl.

“I like riding in them, but I don’t want to fly them,” Cassie said.

“But I want to be an astronaut when I grow up,” Anna said.

Contact Donnette Beckett at (217) 421-6983. Follow her on Twitter: @donnettebHR


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