The Ford Tri-Motor Model 4-AT-E, designated NC8407 that visited North Little Rock last weekend was one of 199 aircraft of that design, nicknamed the “Tin Goose,” due to its all metal construction.
It was the 76th 4-AT-E model to come off of the assembly line, and made its first flight on Aug. 21, 1929. Its first home was Pitcairn Aviation, which bought the aircraft days after it was completed. NC8407 became the first aircraft owned by Eastern Air Transport (later to become Eastern Airline) when management of Pitcairn changed hands later in 1929.
In 1930, NC8407 inaugurated air service between Havana and Santiago de Cuba, having been leased to Compañía Nacional Cubana de Aviación Curtiss, and it was later used by the government of the Dominican Republic.
NC8407 returned to the U.S. in 1949 and was used for barnstorming, then as a crop-duster, an aerial firefighter, and was even used in two movies; a Jerry Lewis comedy, “The Family Jewels,” in 1965, and the 2009 gangster flick, “Public Enemies,” with Johnny Depp.
“Johnny Depp actually sat in that seat,” said Ed Rusch, the volunteer pilot responsible for piloting the aircraft during its four-day visit, as he pointed out the rearmost seat located next to the entry door. “On a lot of our flights, when that’s pointed out, that winds up being the seat most of the young ladies want to be seated in.”
In 1973, the aircraft was badly damaged when a severe thunderstorm moved over a Burlington, Wisc., airport where it was anchored during an Experimental Aircraft Association Fly-In. The wind pulled the craft loose from its tie-downs, lifted it into the air, and then smashed it to the ground upside down.
“Paul Poberezny, the founder of EAA, was at the airport sitting in his P-64 when the squall came through,” said Rusch. “The wind lifted the airplane up, flipped it over, and slammed it to ground right next to where Paul was, so he actually saw it happen.”
Poberenzny, after successfully negotiating with the insurance company, purchased the aircraft, which was then subjected to a 12-year long restoration.
“The airplane flew again in 1985 under EAA colors and has been flying as a representative of EAA ever since,” Rusch said.
NC8407 is one of two Tri-Motors operated by EAA. The other, a 1928 Model 5-AT-B, designated NC9645, is slightly larger, holds an additional two passengers, and has a higher gross weight rating.
The aircraft, originally equipped with three Wright radial piston engines rated at 300 horsepower each, was upgraded to three Pratt-Whitney Wasp Junior radial piston engines rated at 450 horsepower each. The craft has a cruising speed of 90 miles per hour, top speed of 115 MPH, and a range of 500 miles.