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EAA’s Ford Tri-Motor Tour

By Kristy Busse, EAA 1016800, Air Tours Manager

September 2015 - “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is a success”  When Henry Ford said this he had no idea how long lasting the impact of the Ford Tri-Motor would be, from its beginnings that influenced travel and transportation, to its continued ability to share our country’s history, and its ability to innovate and adapt. 

EAA’s Ford Tri-Motor 4-AT-E, NC8407, whose beginning was with Eastern Air Transport in 1929, has made its name as a movie star, most recently appearing in Public Enemies alongside Johnny Depp in 2008. Additionally, EAA has recently teamed up with the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton, Ohio, to lease its Ford Tri-Motor 5-AT-B, which was delivered to Trans Continental Air Transport in 1928 and flown on the first leg of the inaugural coast-to-coast air/rail passenger service in the USA. Both aircraft have vibrant histories and bring with them that inexplicable feeling of hope and excitement wherever they travel.

EAA is honored to operate both of these aircraft on national tours each year. The airplanes visit more than 60 cities and fly over 15,000 passengers during those visits, and are being toured and visited on the ground by thousands more every year. These aircraft tours, along with our B-17 tour, are essential outreach tools for EAA and our chapters. They help EAA spread the spirit of aviation, improve community awareness and visibility of airports, and interact with our chapters on a more personal level. Just as any good program at EAA has historically been maintained, the Tri-Motor tours are accomplished by the time, talents, and passion invested by dedicated volunteers. Volunteers for this program were, and continue to be, the driving factor behind developing and refining a successful and manageable touring program for the Tin Goose. The tour has two major volunteer groups that are essential in its ability to continue to operate.

We have a group of volunteers who play essential roles in each city the aircraft visits—these individuals are needed for the preparation of a successful tour stop. EAA chapters are fantastic hosts and build out these aircraft visits in their city into an array of different activities. They work with the air tours office in advance to sort through all the logistical details, including operational space, hangar for the aircraft, fuel and equipments needs, volunteer scheduling, and more. They provide volunteers while the aircraft is on site who help with a variety of tasks, such as briefing, loading, safety, and tickets sales. Additionally, and equally important, are their media and promotional efforts to notify their local area that the tour is coming to town. From hanging up hundreds of posters, acquiring donated billboard space, and engaging media and airport personnel in advance, to the unlimited unique and creative ideas in-between, these folks are essential to the success and visibility of the tour. Working alongside these hosts and watching their successes is extremely rewarding. Preparing for these stops involves constant communication between the air tours team in Oshkosh and the hosts out in the field. Communication is truly an important key to success for air tours.

The program has more than 40 year--round volunteers who are our touring crew and donate more than a combined 300 hours a month (per aircraft) to keep the tour running smoothly. These volunteers are all active EAAers who have an incredible commitment to keeping the program operating at its absolute best. They actively set goals for the tour and keep themselves accountable to these goals; the Ford Tri-Motor crew is an incredibly self-motivated group who always puts EAA and the program first. The crew is responsible for the onsite business operation and safe flight execution day to day on the tour. They work together to cover anywhere from four to 10 tour stops a month and help with the logistics of moving the aircraft and operation between tour stops. These volunteers are committed to specific standards, as they are responsible for the highest level of safety in their operations. They have several training sessions throughout the year and communicate on a regular basis about policies, procedures, successes, challenges, and learning experiences. They work closely with the EAA air tours office, maintenance office, and a variety of other EAA departments, such as marketing, finance, and membership.

The Ford Tri-Motor tour has two specific crew roles filled at every tour stop: our onsite aircraft captain and his counterpart on the ground operating the ticket sales/flight coordination. Generally we travel with as few as two or three crew members who fill these roles and are committed to the average four- to five-day duration of the tour stop. They handle all flying, ticket sales and financial wrap-up, working with the onsite host and media, answering all incoming calls on the crew cellphone, and communicating directly back to headquarters in Oshkosh.

The pilots are constantly monitoring weather and operational conditions to ensure a safe tour stop event. In addition to working with the airport managers, FBOs, and other airport personnel, they work hand in hand with the ticket sales coordinator to stay on top of flight sales, fueling, host volunteer coordination, and training. Our pilots work directly with EAA’s maintenance staff to stay on top of aircraft status and tracking, with daily aircraft updates back to Oshkosh.

The ticket sales personnel are responsible for successful day-to-day business operations of the tour. They touch base with the air tours office daily as well, with inventory and ticket sales updates, equipment needs, media and specialty inquiries, financials, and an array of other needs and challenges that pop up. They work directly with the customers, processing flight reservations and necessary paperwork, as well as handling the financial and paperwork wrap-up at the end of each day the aircraft flies.

The Fords often have tour stops that fly more than 300 people in the course of three and a half days. This very slim crew handles it all in stride with smiles on their faces; they truly enjoy engaging with chapters and hosts to build lasting relationships and memorable experiences for all. The crew members are crucial to making sure our customers enjoy every moment of their flight experience and take great pride in doing exactly that.

The Ford Tri-Motor tour has volunteers who have been with the program more than 20 years and they still call back to Oshkosh excited about a chapter’s event, success, new ideas, or even simply because of the reaction of every passenger that steps off the plane after their flight experience. That is what ties this group together—they never stop learning, they never stop caring, and they never stop finding joy and excitement in being able to share this amazing piece of aviation history with the public. Their passion is contagious and they exude the spirit of EAA every single day. EAA is absolutely honored to work with this outstanding group of individuals.

If you have interest in hosting the Ford Tri-Motor in your city, or want to inquire further about joining the volunteer crew, please contact me, Kristy Busse, Air Tours Manager, at 920-426-4843, or e-mail kbusse@eaa.org

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