The US Navy was the first American military service to acquire a Ford Tri-Motor. The first XJR-1 (serial A7526) was the fourth Tri-Motor built and made its first flight on January 29, 1927, before it was delivered to the Navy that March. After it was damaged by a tornado on November 18, 1927, repairs were made and the aircraft was operated until April 1930, when it was scrapped at Philadelphia.
Ford JR-3 A8598 made its first flight on December 27, 1929, and was transferred directly to the Marines from a Navy order. The Tri-Motor stayed at the factory, where it is seen here, until April 30, 1930, when it was flown to Nicaragua, where the Corps was fighting rebel forces. On August 4, 1930, the aircraft suffered a landing accident and caught fire at Ocotal, but the pilot escaped from the burning machine with no injuries.
The US Army took delivery of its first Tri-Motor ten months after the Navy received its first example. Tri-Motor production for the Army comprised one C-3, seven C-3As, one C-4 and four C-4As. The C-3As were redesignated C-9s upon delivery. This C-9, 29-224, first flew on June 18, 1929, and is seen here at Floyd Bennett Field in April 1931. Note the insignia of the Air Corps Technical School at Chanute Field on the fuselage sides. The aircraft was surveyed at the San Antonio Air Depot on November 1, 1934, as having accrued 1,794 hr of flying time.
US Navy Ford RR-5 9206 is seen here at Floyd Bennett Field, New York, in 1935. This Tri-Motor was delivered to Naval Air Station (NAS) Anacostia on February 17, 1932, before moving on to NAS Pensacola in December 1934. In service, the Fords were used for a variety of duties, from transporting VIPs to carrying cargo between bases. As may be seen, markings were minimal. This aircraft flew some 2,784 hours, making it the most flown Ford in the Navy/Marine fleet. The aircraft was withdrawn in July 1940 with the notation “worn out”.
The Navy acquired nine Tri-Motors: one XJR-1; two JR-2s; three JR-3s; one RR-4 and two RR-5s. In January 1935 the RR-4, A8840, was flown to the Naval Aircraft Factory for overhaul, after which it was handed over to the US Marine Corps at Quantico, Virginia. Overly keen use of the brakes put the machine on its nose on March 1, but it was soon repaired and went on to fly with VJ-6M. The machine had a short service life, being stricken from service on May 29, 1937.
With its spacious interior the ubiquitous Tri-Motor was ideal for testing the bulky airborne radio equipment of the day. Two large antennae are clearly visible atop the fuselage of this C-9, which has markings that leave no doubt as to its purpose, alongside Wright Field’s distinctive “arrow” marking. Early tests on radio-controlling another aircraft were performed at Wright Field, but the concept would not be perfected until the late 1930s. The C-9 variant replaced the C-3A’s 235 h.p. Wright R-790-3 engines with a trio of 300 h.p. Wright R-975-1s.