If ever an aircraft can be said to have redefined passenger transport, the Ford Trimotor has to be one of the outstanding examples.
It was designed by a charismatic entrepreneur by the name of William Bushnell Stout, who drew strongly on the influences of Hugo Junkers to build an all-metal monoplane. The similarity between the Ford and the later Junkers Ju52 is particularly striking. Stout also modelled his creation on the recently introduced Fokker F.VII. The two types are markedly similar, despite using different construction techniques.
Stout had plenty of enthusiasm, but a shortage of funds, so he solicited support from other manufacturers. The proposition was undeniably honest: "For your one thousand dollars you will get one definite promise: You will never get your money back." A surprising number of businessmen were won over by Stout's candour, among them Henry Ford and his son, Edsel.
Ford acquired the Stout business in 1925, instigating a move from single engine to the trimotor configuration that would give it its name. The prototype, the Stout 3-AT, was notably disappointing and was later destroyed by a fire that may well have been started intentionally by the manufacturers.
The ensuing 4-AT and 5-AT were considerably more successful, so much so that Fokker noted its superiority to their F.VII and converted their own design to carry three engines. There seems to have been some acrimony between the companies, as Junkers successfully sued Ford for infringement of patent when the Trimotor was offered for sale in Europe. Ford mounted a counter-suit, in which it was defeated again.
While not ground-breaking, the Ford gained a reputation for ruggedness and reliability, while Ford's mastery of production processes kept prices down. Nearly 200 were sold, an extraordinarily high number for the time. More than a hundred airlines adopted the type.
The reign of the Trimotor was relatively shortlived; The introductionof the Douglas DC-2 in 1934 heralded a new age of fast, high-capacity airliners against which the draggy, corrugated-aluminium Ford couldn't hope to compete. But as it was sidelined from first-division use, the type gained ever greater popularity among smaller freight and private hire companies. The iconic Ford Trimotor would soldier on into the 1960s, and eight remain flyable even today.
|Trimotor by numbers|
|First Flight:||11 June 1926|
|Powerplant:||3 × Wright J-6-9 Whirlwind 9-cylinder radial engines 0f 224kW (300hp)|
|Maximum Speed:||213km/h (132mph)|
|Length:||15.2m (49ft 10in)|
|Wingspan:||22.6m (74ft 0in)|
|Height:||3.6m (11ft 9in)|