The Magical History Tour
Why are so many Golden Age airplanes traveling the country together this fall?
- By Mary Collins
- Air & Space magazine, September 2003
NASM (SI Neg. #93-16120)
(Page 4 of 10)
At about 9 a.m. on Monday, this September 8, Edsel B. Ford’s grandson, Edsel II, will wave a starter flag at the Dearborn Proving Ground, formerly Ford Airport, near Detroit. When he does, 30 airplanes—several Ford Tri-motors, other early airliners, mail carriers, bushplanes, amphibians, and barnstormers, accompanied by the last Douglas DC-3 to be operated by the FAA—will begin the 26-city 2003 National Air Tour. The aircraft will fly 4,000 miles, following a route planned for the 1932 tour, which was canceled when towns suffering from the Depression simply couldn’t find the money to welcome touring airplanes.
As Herrick heads the re-creation of the early Ford tours, he is tackling many of the details the original organizers faced: lining up sponsors, pilots, airplanes, airfields, and ground crews. “Imagine the logistics,” he says, “for 30 airplanes all going 110 mph and leaving Dearborn at basically the same time on September 8.”
But he doesn’t dwell on the nuts and bolts. When I ask him about the task of organizing the tour, he answers by describing how much it means to the pilots who will fly their Golden Age airplanes this fall and telling me about Rosemarie Schlee, at 87, the last known living participant of the original tours.
Her father, Ed Schlee, flew two-thirds of the way around the world in 1927 (he skipped the Pacific Ocean), just after Lindbergh won the Orteig Prize, awarded for the first solo nonstop flight from New York to Paris. “Airplanes were our business,” Rosemarie says today. “We owned an airport. I remember my dad gave me a parachute and hung me from some rafters to show me how to use it.”
In 1927, Rosemarie, then 12, flew in the Ford air tour with her father in the family’s Stinson S-1. Schlee had Eddie “Lucky 7-11” Stinson, founder of the airplane manufacturing company of the same name and one of the finest pilots of the era, at the controls. That year, dressed in a well-pressed business suit and straw hat, Stinson won with ease, his suave style convincing one newspaper reporter that “flying is not the strenuous proposition it used to be.”
Rosemarie recalls the lavish lunches and dinners various towns put on for the pilots and their passengers. People crushed in on the field and the airplanes. “We flew to New York and I couldn’t believe how many people showed up. It was like we were coming back from the moon or something.
“The planes were very comfortable and had wicker seats. And I remember Dick Blythe [a reporter] from the Detroit News had a little monkey named Whirlwind Jimmy. We’d land at all of these airports and the kids would be following me and the monkey would be sitting on my shoulder holding onto my hair. I’ll never forget the kids trailing after me.”
To honor people like her father and Stinson, Rosemarie wants to participate in the National Air Tour this fall, but she’s had heart surgery and back problems and can’t be sure she’ll show.