Home » McCormick Place » Yes, It's Called Ford Lauderdale Air Show, Not Fort. And Given Ford's History In The Aviation Industry, It Makes Sense.

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Yes, It's Called Ford Lauderdale Air Show, Not Fort. And Given Ford's History In The Aviation Industry, It Makes Sense.

The new name is cute – Ford Lauderdale Air Show. It’s a natural. Nobody will doubt that the event is in Fort Lauderdale, but at the same time it gives the title sponsor ideal visibility. It is one of the things that attracted the South Florida Ford Dealers to its sponsorship. The connection came too late last year to give Ford much publicity. But this year is different.

Having a premier corporation behind the show is great news for local business people who have worked to revive it for several years. An auto company being associated with an air show may seem an odd coupling, but not to aviation historians.

The fact is the name Ford has been associated with airplanes from almost the birth of aviation. After succeeding in mass-producing his Model T Fords, Henry Ford became fascinated with vehicles that fly. Ford built one of the first successful commercial aircraft. The Ford Trimotor appeared in 1926, and was purchased by numerous pioneer airlines; 199 copies were produced before production ended in 1933. Among them was Ford’s own airline, Ford Aviation Transport, an airfreight outfit that was the first to fly air mail.

The Trimotor wasn’t pretty. The third engine in the nose was ungainly, and its air-cooled radial engines had no cowlings. It was based on a German Junkers design, so much so that patent infringement lawsuit followed. It was a sturdy and reliable machine, which achieved many firsts, including Richard Byrd’s flight over the South Pole, and many of Pan American’s flights from Miami to South America. It managed to keep flying for commercial purposes into the 1960s. A handful survive today, used mostly on tourist operations—in which the airplane itself is the star of the tour.

By 1933 it was outdated by more modern designs such as the Boeing 247 and the Douglas DC 2. By then Henry Ford had lost some of his enthusiasm for aviation after his chief test pilot died in a crash. Germany, however, continued to refine the trimotor concept and its Junkers 52 was its primary transport in World War II.

Although Ford had stopped building its own planes, in World War II it became a major manufacturer of engines and aircraft designed by other companies. Its Willow Run plant, outside Dearborn, Michigan, had a production line a mile long. It built thousands of the Consolidated B-24 bombers, which along with the Boeing B-17 became the primary weapons in the campaign to destroy Nazi Germany’s industry. Ford built other airplane parts as well, and by the war’s end it had built thousands of complete aircraft, plus 57,851 airplane engines and more than 4,000 military gliders.

This was in addition to building tanks, trucks and smaller vehicles, including 278,000 of the famous Willys Jeeps. Ford even had a plant in Germany, which the Germans commandeered to produce their own weapons. As the Allies swept across Western Europe, German employees ignored orders to destroy the plant in Cologne, and it actually produced its first post-war truck on May 8, 1945—the date the war in Europe ended.

For more information on the 2017 air show and the performance lineup, click here.

(Photo courtesy Greg Herrick and Xavier Meal via Golden Wings Museum)