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  • Writer's pictureroy blewett

Ford Trimotor

The Yankee Air Museum's 4-AT-B NC9610, seen here shortly after its arrival at Willow Run (Yankee Air Museum via Facebook)

William B. Stout established his eponymous company at Dearborn, MI, in 1922 to build the first all-metal aircraft in the United States, the single-engine 1-AS Air Sedan. Henry Ford, who had pioneered the mass production of cars, was convinced that aircraft could also be manufactured in the same way and he began backing Stout in 1924. He acquired a controlling stake in the business in 1925, at which point it became the Stout Metal Airplane Division of the Ford Motor Company. Although open to the opportunities offered by air travel, Ford was a nervous flyer himself and insisted on the highest levels of safety assurance in his new airliner, so Stout produced the three-engine Trimotor family. The type was used extensively during the late 1920s and pioneered coast-to-coast air travel in the United States, although for passenger comfort the two overnight sectors continued to be undertaken by rail. Despite a respectable production run, the Trimotor was not a commercial success and the onset of the Depression led to Ford’s withdrawal from the aviation industry.

20 years later, William Stout purchased the design rights to the Trimotor, but because of licensing issues was prevented from using the Trimotor name. He went into partnership with the Hayden Aircraft Corporation and, on 15 January 1955, announced ambitious plans for the production of 1,000 Bushmasters. With little financial backing (and no orders) progress was slow and the first two Bushmasters did not fly until 1966 and 1985 respectively. The latter was completed by Ralph Williams, who had acquired a controlling interest in Hayden in 1958; sadly, the aircraft crashed and burned out on 25 September 2004 shortly after taking off from Fullerton, CA.

First flight: 3-AT: 1925; 4-AT: 11 Jun 26 (c/n 4-AT-1, NC1492)

Production: 200, comprising 198 Tri-Motors at Dearborn, MI, and 2 Bushmasters at Long Beach, CA.

First delivery: Dec 26, to National Air Transport (c/n 4-AT-2, NC4309)

Last delivery: Jun 33, to Pan American (c/n 5-AT-116, NC9659)

Variants: 3-AT –initial aircraft with open cockpit mounted above a pullman-style cabin, powered by 3 Wright J-4 radials (1 built);

4-AT-A – initial production version with seating for up to 15 passengers (14 built);

4-AT-B – 4-AT-A powered by Wright J-5 Whirlwinds (35 built);

4-AT-C – 4-AT-B powered by 2 Wright J-5s and 1 Pratt & Whitney Wasp in the nose (1 built);

4-AT-D – long wing version of 4-AT-B for Grand Canyon sightseeing (3 built);

4-AT-E – 4-AT-B powered by 3 Wright J-6 Whirlwinds (24 built, including 1 with higher weights as 4-AT-F and 7 for the US Army Air Corps under the designation C-9);

5-AT-A – improved version powered by 3 Pratt & Whitney Wasps, with increased wing span and seating for up to 14 passengers (3 built);

5-AT-B – developed version with uprated Wasps and seating for up to 15 (42 built);

5-AT-C – “De Luxe Club Model” based on 5-AT-B with increased performance and seating for up to 17 (46 built, include one as a seaplane with designation 5-AT-CS. An additional 2 were modified from 6-AT-A and 7-AT);

5-AT-D – improved version of 5-AT-C (24 built, including 1 seaplane 5-AT-DS and 4 for USAAC as C-4A);

6-AT-A – 5-AT-C powered by Wright J-6s (3 built, including 1 seaplane 6-AT-AS) 2 of which were subsequently “demodified” as 5-AT-Cs);

8-AT – cargo version of 5-AT-C (1 built);

XB-906 – bomber version of 5-AT-C (1 built);

Bushmaster 2000 - Modernised version based on 15-AT-D but with heightened fuselage to allow taller cabin, redesigned tail section and other imporvements, powered by 3 Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior radials (2 built, with third incomplete; first flight Aug 66).

Conversions: 7-AT – 6-AT-A fitted with 2 Wasps and 1 J-6 (1 converted, subsequently modified to 5-AT-C);

9-AT – 4-AT-B fitted with Wasp Juniors;

11-AT – 4-AT-B powered by 3 Packard Diesel engines (1 converted);

13-A – 5-AT-D powered by 2 Wright J-6s and 1 Wright Cyclone (1 converted).

Ford Trimotor survivors
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