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History of the Liberty Ford Tri-Motor 5-AT-B

Liberty Aviation Museum’s 1928 Ford Tri-Motor 5-AT-B, serial No. 8, flew its first flight on December 1, 1928. It was sold to Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT, the logo that graces the aircraft’s fuselage today) in January 1929 where it became NC9645 and was named City of Wichita. It inaugurated westbound transcontinental commercial air service on July 7, 1929, with sister ship City of Columbus.

In April 1931, ownership of the aircraft was transferred to Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA). Here the aircraft helped in the development of TWA’s route system.

In July 1935, NC9645 was sold to G. Ruckstill and entered the fleet at Grand Canyon Airlines. From there the Tin Goose was sold to Boulder Dam Tours in February 1937, where it entered sightseeing air tour service.

The Ford was registered AN-AAS with Transportes Aereos del Continente Americano (simply known as TACA Airlines) in Honduras in December 1937, where it stayed until 1942 when purchased by an unknown operator in Compeche, Mexico, and was reregistered as XA-FUB. The registration changed again in 1950 to XA-NET while under the ownership of another individual in Compeche.

1951 brought major overhaul and repairs for No. 8, including removal of the aircraft’s corrugated skin, which was replaced with flat sheet metal. This change earned the aircraft nickname “the smooth-skin Ford.”

The Tri-Motor was sold to another private owner in July 1953 and was damaged in an accident in January 1954, after which it was put in storage.

Eugene Frank of Caldwell, Idaho, acquired the aircraft in 1955, moving it back to the U.S. and reregistering it as N58996. It remained in storage until July 1964, when it was purchased by Nevada’s William F. Harrah of Harrah’s Hotel and Casinos. Harrah returned the plane’s registration to NC9645 and began an extensive seven-year renovation, bringing the aircraft back to airworthy status and restoring the corrugated skin. The former smooth-skin Ford had its first post-restoration flight in 1971 and flew in Reno several times before being moved to static display as part of Harrah’s impressive automobile collection. After Harrah’s death, parts of his collection, including NC9645, were auctioned off in June 1986 to high bidder Gary Norton of Athol, Idaho.

In February 1990, the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, acquired the aircraft. It remained in storage there until 1996 when another restoration of the aircraft started, returning it to flying condition once again.

In 2014, the aircraft was acquired by Ed Patrick and the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton, Ohio. Volunteers ferried the aircraft across the country to its new home.  After further maintenance to ensure the aircraft was tour-ready, Liberty entered into a lease agreement with EAA, working together to showcase the historic aircraft around the country.