Riding in 1929 plane was old-style luxury

Published 10:21 am Thursday, July 18, 2013

Column: A Happy Medium, by Erin Murtaugh

It’s a bird. … It’s a plane. … It’s Superman!

Oh wait, no, it is a plane!

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Last Thursday, Brandi Hagen and I boarded a plane at 7 a.m. at the Albert Lea Municipal Airport. Our pilot was Jeff Cookle, who has had his private pilot’s license since 1997. We took off in his Cessna 172, a small airplane. This was the start of our journey to the 1929 Ford Tri-Motor that awaited us in Anoka County.

As we took off, the small air vents on either side of the plane blasted us with cold air. Dials covered the space in front of Cookle, making the plane look complicated and intimidating. It turns out, all the dials are actually in sets of two, so there is a back up to each one. We looked out the window as Freeborn County got farther and farther away. The landscape changed from farmland to lakes to wooded areas.

Over the headsets we wore, we could hear Cookle communicating with surrounding airports. Since Albert Lea is actually uncontrolled airspace, it is the responsibility of the pilots flying in the area to communicate with each other. As the plane went north, Cookle had to communicate with air traffic controllers, who would guide us on our trip.

When we got closer to the Twin Cities area, we had to take a slight curve around the area. Cookle’s plane can fly up to 5,000 feet in the air, so we had to avoid flying in areas where other planes may be at that altitude.

We landed at Key Air Airport in Anoka County just after 8 a.m. As soon as we touched the ground, I noticed our ride home. Silver and blue, the Ford Tri-Motor 4AT-E was being observed by airport staff.

Hagen and I got out of Cookle’s plane and took out our cameras. We took photos from just about every angle possible on the outside. Someone there told us to go ahead and look around inside.

The interior was mint green with wood trim and had fine hand-painted details. I instantly felt as though I had time traveled to the 1920s. Back in 1929, it was used as a passenger plane. In that era, flying was a luxury, so only wealthy people rode in planes. All I could imagine was people dressed in the costuming from “The Great Gatsby” getting aboard.

Soon, our pilots, Chris and Colin Soucy, came out of the airport. They began their routine for prepping the plane for take off. Once they were finished, Chris approached us and gave us a history of the plane we were about to board. We were given a safety talk and earplugs, and we got on the Ford Tri-Motor.

The plane didn’t have air vents like Cookle’s did. They were merely slots that let in a nice stream of air. The plane was too loud for anyone to be heard, so throughout our flight, both the Soucys would write notes to us or point out where we were on a map. We flew at a much lower altitude and speed, giving us more time to take in the sights below.

The Soucys started to pull into the airport, but suddenly I realized we weren’t landing. They had decided to give us a quick ride over Albert Lea. After, we went back to the airport and landed. I pulled out my earplugs only to hear applause. A crowd of aerial enthusiasts flocked toward the plane. At that moment, I realized I had probably experienced something that would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


Albert Lea High School senior Erin Murtaugh’s column appears every Thursday.