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A view from the co-pilot’s seat of the 1920’s Ford Tri-Motor airplane shows Acme Tools and Rental in Bemidji. — Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Flights of fancy: Aviation lovers hope rides aboard classic plane helps idea of local air show take wing

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Flights of fancy: Aviation lovers hope rides aboard classic plane helps idea of local air show take wing
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

BEMIDJI — Area aviation enthusiasts are working to spark more of an interest here, and they hope scheduled attractions over the patriotic holiday can help the dream take off.

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The Mississippi Headwaters Flyers of Bemidji is offering the public a chance to get up close and personal with a number of different aircraft this week, including a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor airplane, which was giving flight tours on Monday.

Commonly referred to as the “Tin Goose,” the historic plane will be stationed at Bemidji Regional Airport from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. again today.

Flight rides are based on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“It’s a great step back in history,” John Maxfield said Monday. Maxfield is one of two pilots of the plane during the Bemidji tour and has flown for more than 40 years.

Owned by the Experimental Aircraft Association, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit, the “Tin Goose” is on a Midwest tour that will also make an appearance in Brainerd Thursday-Sunday.

The aircraft, containing three, 450-horsepower engines, has nine passenger seats and a co-pilot seat available to tourists, with each seat accompanied by a window.

Up in the air After the transfer of tickets and buckling of seat belts, the middle propeller, left propeller and finally right propeller whirl into frenzy, eventually providing passengers about a 15-minute flight that features area points of interest.

Doug Conciatu, the second touring pilot, said photos and videos are highly encouraged.

“The smile on your face will be larger when you exit the plane than when you entered it,” he said.

Conciatu, who has toured with the Tri-Motor twice, said he first began learning to fly in high school.

Flying at an altitude of about 1,000 feet with a speed nearing 90 mph, the “Tin Goose,” made of corrugated aluminum, has an intriguing past that involves more than passenger tours.

According to an EAA release, the historic plane was first built in the late 1920s, where it debuted as the industry’s first commercial passenger airliner. It then transitioned into a variety of other services, with roles as a Cuban airliner, barnstorming, transporting smoke jumpers during wildfires and crop dusting.

With an extensive background, the plane was nearly destroyed during a thunderstorm in 1973. The remains of the aircraft were purchased by the EAA, where it underwent a major restoration for 12 years.

“Technology has resurrected a lot of things, and this is (the Tri-Motor) is one of them,” Conciatu said.

When not touring the country in the spring, summer and fall months, the “Tin Goose” is hangared at the EAA Museum in Wisconsin.

Piloting commercial jets internationally, Maxfield, who has made three stops with the aircraft, said his experiences with the “Tin Goose” have differed from other planes in his career.

“Flying the old plane is so different than what I normally do,” he said. “Every day flying this (pointing to the Tri-Motor) is just so different.”

Brian Shaw, president of the local EAA 1397 chapter, said the 1920’s-era commercial airliner is one way to get the public more interested in aeronautics, and a small step toward resurrecting a Bemidji air show.

“This is our test run at what it’d be like to get one going again,” said Shaw, who added the last local air show was in 1992.

Shaw said other events planned Thursday by the Bemidji EAA chapter to raise interest in flight include tours of a North American B-25 Mitchell and four World War II airplanes, provided by the Commemorative Air Force in St. Paul.

Free tours of the Bemidji Regional Airport and Bemidji Aviation also will be provided. Food and beverages will be provided by Marketplace Foods. All activities will take place from 9 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Shaw said he hopes the sound of airplanes overhead will draw people from other festivities throughout town on the Fourth of July.

“This is all to get an interest in aviation back in Bemidji,” he said.

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