A Tri-Motor Ride 84 Years in the Making

A Tri-Motor Ride 84 Years in the Making

EAA’s Ford Tri-Motor flew a special passenger at its Chapter 1067 stop in Naples, Florida, on February 26: 104-year-old Helen Johnson Collins, who took her first flight in this iconic airplane with TWA back in 1933.

Helen’s first flight in the Tri-Motor cost $49 per ticket to take her and a friend from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Glendale, California, the day after Christmas. When her son, John Collins, a member of EAA Chapter 14 in San Diego, first learned about the Tri-Motor’s tour stop near his mother’s home he contacted Chapter 1067 to help arrange a special birthday flight.

Accompanied by her granddaughter on EAA’s Ford, Helen recalled the excitement of her first flight for the crew members and volunteers.

“On my first flight I kept looking out the windows,” Helen said. “On this flight I did it again. Naples has grown since me and my husband lived there in 1968.”

A 20-year-old schoolteacher at the time of her first flight, Helen said in those days passengers dressed up for flights, which were considered a special experience.

“Two men drove the 200 miles to Artesia, New Mexico, to transport us back north to the airplane at Albuquerque,” Helen said. “We landed at Saugus because the Glendale airport was fogged in. The pilot, Capt. Royal Leonard, presented us a signed photo of the aircraft in front of the terminal where they had intended to land … then delivered us to our lodgings. The next day the traffic manager at the airport took the day off so that he could give us a grand tour of the Los Angeles area.”

Volunteer pilot and EAA board member Cody Welch said as Helen was sharing her story with EAA’s volunteers she divulged that the “swashbuckling pilot” on her TWA flight had made a pass at her.

“She had a twinkle in her eye recalling the story,” he said. “She told me that if she hadn’t already been engaged, ‘Who knows?’”

This is just one example of the memories EAA’s Tri-Motor and chapter volunteers have helped create for its more than 20,000 passengers per year. Cody said his 25 years piloting the Tri-Motor have held countless memorable flights, from those involving marriage proposals to one with an original Eastern Airlines flight attendant who arrived in her old uniform.

He said the work EAA chapters do to share this airplane with their communities helps make a difference: “Every day that EAA operates these airplanes we write another chapter in history.”

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Megan, EAA 1171719, is EAA’s staff writer, regularly contributing to both print and digital publications. She’s an aspiring pilot, a passionate aviation enthusiast, and an avid learner of just about everything. E-mail Megan at mesau@eaa.org.