MANKATO — This plane is plodding, noisy and old as great-grandpa.
And the paying customers couldn’t wait to have at it Thursday at Mankato Regional Airport.
“It was a thrill,” said Mankatoan Frank White as he stepped out of the 1929 Ford Tri-Motor following his 15-minute flight.
He stood on the tarmac and gazed upon the aircraft that foretold commercial air travel as we know it.
“This was America’s first multi-engine airliner, actually,” said the licensed pilot who flew helicopters during the Vietnam War.
The public can fly on the plane through this weekend. The fully restored Ford Tri-Motor is in Mankato as part of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s 2012 tour.
The plane was the world’s first mass-produced airliner. Ford Motor Company began building the “Tin Goose” in the late 1920s. Nearly 200 were made but only about 12 remain with even fewer in flying condition.
Passengers Thursday boarded a 10-seat aircraft that originally had wicker seats.
Those have been replaced, but the oversized rectangular cabin windows remain. Each has a small pop-open porthole that’s good for bringing in fresh air or, back in the day, flicking cigarette ashes.
Wally Rennick, a member of the association’s local chapter, was among the first group to go up. He said the plane’s comfort level surprised him.
“It’s pretty good. I was impressed.”
Nearby, Rod Mitchell stood by awaiting his turn aboard.
“I don’t know why I do this,” he joked. “I just can’t help myself. I’m a sucker for it.”
The Ford Tri-Motor can be likened to a bus that takes flight. Its three engines produce a din and its cruising speed is about 80 mph.
“It’s ponderously slow, but I was surprised that it was so vibration free,” White said.
Added Rennick admiringly, “She’s a good old bird.”
Flights will be offered 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today through Sunday at $80 for adults, $40 for children and free for children younger than age 6 if accompanied by a paying guardian.