August 27, 2013 - EAA lifetime member Eric Whyte seized the opportunity last weekend to give his grandmother a chance to step back in time and relive her first airplane ride as EAA's Ford Tri-Motor made a tour stop at the Wings Over Waukesha Air Show in Wisconsin.
In August 1933, nearly 80 years ago to the day, just-turned-12-year-old Ruth Jacoby-Whyte saw an ad in the local newspaper about an air show being hosted by the fledgling Waukesha Aviation Club at the Waukesha Airport. They were offering rides in a Ford Tri-Motor piloted by famous air racing pilot Jimmy Haislip for $1.
Since it was around her 12th birthday, Ruth persuaded her parents to take her to the airport for her first airplane ride.
She recalled the pilot collected the dollars from passengers as they boarded. The flight, she recalled, was spectacular. "It was quite exciting to see the city from above," she recalled. "It was only a few years after Lindbergh and flying was a big deal back then."
Recently her grandson, Eric, EAA Lifetime 357260, sent Ruth a Facebook message about the Wings Over Waukesha Air Show and said that EAA's Ford Tri-Motor would be there. Would she like to come out and take another ride in the Ford?
"She jumped at the chance," Eric said. And to top things off, Eric would be on the flight deck, not Jimmy Haislip. Also flying was Ashley Messenger, and both pilots fly the vintage plane as volunteers in EAA's Ford Tri-Motor flight program.
So on Sunday morning, August 25, Ruth arrived at Waukesha County Airport for her second Ford Tri-Motor flight in 80 years. They even staged the photograph of paying the pilot $1 for the ride (although Eric swears he didn't actually keep the dollar!).
"The flight was really special and I was so pleased to be able to do it," Ruth would say later. "It was fun to see that airplane again after 80 years, and having my grandson be the pilot, well that just made it extra special."
Eric also had an opportunity to fly two of his nephews in the Ford Tri-Motor at Waukesha, so the journey continues.
Ruth, now 92, raised her family in Waukesha. Her brother, Edward Jacoby, learned to fly at Waukesha after returning from World War II. Edward introduced his nephew (Ruth's son and Eric's father) Ken Whyte, EAA Lifetime 49308, to flying in the 1950s. Ken learned to fly under the watchful eye of Waukesha Aviation Club co-founder Dale Crites in the early 1960s.
Ken would quickly get involved in a relatively new organization based in Milwaukee called the Experimental Aircraft Association. He later became volunteer chairman of Homebuilt Parking at Oshkosh, a post from which he stepped down only last year after 34 years.
It's no surprise that Eric makes his living as a corporate pilot having grown up around aviation. Bitten by the flight bug early in life, Eric began volunteering at EAA at the age of 7. He attended the EAA Air Academy in 1990 and later became a Young Eagle. Eric made his first solo flight at the very same Waukesha County Airport on his 16th birthday.
He holds the distinction of being the very first Young Eagle to earn his pilot certificate and fly Young Eagles himself. Eric also serves as chairman of the EAA AirVenture Cup Race, which he helped organize 16 years ago.
That air show 80 years ago? Its purpose was to promote the airport and convince the county board to expand it. Looks like they made the right choice.
EAA's Ford Tri-Motor tour continues through the fall. For scheduling information and flight reservations, visit FlyTheFord.org.