In the 1920s, US airmail was flown across the country by private pilots under contract, in single-engine, open cockpit planes. By the early 1930s, small commercial airline companies started springing up—-American, Delta, United. These infant carriers took a few passengers along with the mail.
Most of them flew the legendary “Tin Goose”—the sturdy, corrugated-metal Ford Trimotor that held up to 15 passengers and hopped across the country in 31 grueling hours of airtime (at 90 mph).
Admiral Byrd also flew a Ford Trimotor on his historic flight over the SouthPole, November 1929.
When I was eleven years old, I got my first ride in an airplane. It, too, was a Ford Trimotor. The corrugated- metal sides looked like one of my grandmother’s old gray washboards.
Emma Lindquist was going out with two different guys about that time. The one who had the inside track was Dick Rankin. I was pulling for him. He was a flyer. And I was really impressed.
Dick offered to take all of us up for a flight over Portland. Agnes, Emma, my mother and me. None of us had ever been up in an airplane.
For several days, my mother thought long and hard about whether to go, while I nagged and pleaded and begged. She finally said “yes.” And we all accepted Dick’s invitation.
Dick Rankin was the soft-spoken, younger brother of “Tex” Rankin, a flamboyant ex-WWI flyer, stunt pilot and air racer of some minor fame. Both of the brothers had barnstormed from place to place during the twenties, flying in air shows and exhibitions, operating out of small grass fields, hustling to make a buck.
They had started out with a war surplus SPAD, the tough little biplane fighter that played such a critical role for the Allies in WWI.
(Germany’s Baron Manfred von Richthofen, in the highly-maneuverable Fokker triplane, was the scourge of the skies over France in 1917. The Red Baron and his Flying Circus dominated—shooting down Allied flyers in frightening, ever-increasing numbers.
That changed, however, with the introduction of the scrappy, French-designed SPAD. America’s top ace, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, flying a SPAD, shot down 26 German planes during eight months of furious combat along the Western Front. He commanded the Yanks’ famed “Hat-in-Ring” squadron.)