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Ford Motor Company History Intertwined With Aviation

Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford had a similar pioneering vision for aviation as he did for the automobile. Ford recognized the Wright brothers' genius and impact of their discoveries in transportation. Ford, joined by his son Edsel B. Ford, laid the foundation for our modern system of commercial aviation including the world's first modern airport with concrete runway and the popularization of all-metal aircraft with the Ford Tri-Motor.

Fordís Contribution to Aviation Timeline:


  • Henry Ford founds Ford Motor Company.
  • Orville Wright makes first controlled, powered flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C.


  • Orville and Wilbur Wright receive U.S. patent for a powered aircraft.


  • Ford introduces Model T, destined to be one of the world's most popular cars.
  • Glenn Curtiss makes first public airplane flight in United States. Wright Brothers begin series of flying demonstrations in France that bring worldwide acclaim.


  • Henry and Edsel Ford help Charles Van Auken build a primitive monoplane powered by a Ford Model T engine.


  • Wilbur Wright dies of typhoid.


  • Henry Ford sets up first mass-production assembly line at his Highland Park, Mich., plant that turns out cars in one-tenth of the time. Ford later applies process to aircraft production.


  • Ford Motor Company mass-produces the American-designed "Liberty" aircraft engine and develops engines for the Kettering "Bug," America's first guided missile.


  • Construction begins on massive, historic Rouge automotive manufacturing complex, which played an instrumental role in Ford Motor Company's efforts during World War II.


  • Edsel Ford succeeds his father, Henry, as president of Ford Motor Company


  • Edsel Ford invests in the Stout Metal Airplane Company, formed to design and build the first commercial all-metal airplane in the United States.


  • Ford Airport at Dearborn, Michigan, is dedicated. It is the first modern airport in the world and begins the all-metal commercial airliner industry in the United States.
  • Ford buys Stout Metal Airplane Company and forms Ford's Airplane Development Division.
  • Ford Air Transport Service, the world's first regularly scheduled commercial airline, begins freight service from Detroit to Chicago, with later runs to Cleveland and Buffalo.
  • Ford builds the first of 196 Ford Tri-Motor Airplanes, which are later used by America's first commercial airlines.
  • Ford builds the first privately owned dirigible mooring mast in the world.


  • First Wright "Whirlwind" engine-equipped Ford 4-AT Tri-Motor comes onto the market. It represents a tremendous technological advance over existing aircraft and enables Ford's new Airplane Manufacturing Division to become the world's largest manufacturer of commercial aircraft.
  • First successful radio guided flight, using system developed by Ford Motor Company.
  • Richard Byrd makes the first flight over the North Pole in a Tri-Motor named the "Josephine Ford" in honor of Henry's granddaughter.
  • Ford Motor Company is the first private operator to fly the U.S. Air Mail.
  • Ford Motor Company is first to establish assembly line method of producing airplanes.


  • Charles Lindbergh becomes first person to fly solo nonstop across Atlantic. He takes Henry Ford on his first airplane ride and becomes Ford Motor Company's chief pilot.


  • First paved runway in the world is installed at Ford Airport.


  • Richard Byrd flies the Ford 4AT-B over the South Pole.
  • Henry Ford and Thomas Edison dedicate the Edison Institute (later called the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village) in Dearborn, Mich., on the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the electric light. Historic pieces collected include the Wright brothers' home and cycle shop.


  • Dearborn Inn opens adjacent to Ford Airport, one of the first U.S. hotels specifically built for the air traveler.

WWII  (1939-1945)


  • Ford Motor Company builds first general purpose (G.P., or "jeep") vehicle for the U.S. military at Rouge Plant.


  • Company halts civilian car production to produce B-24 Liberator Bombers, aircraft engines, gliders and jet-bomb engines.


  • Ford Motor Company pilots conduct high-altitude engine tests, contributing invaluable data on the ignition systems operations and engine performance at extreme altitudes.


  • Edsel Ford dies at age 49; Henry Ford resumes leadership of company.


  • Ford Motor Company builds one B-24 bomber an hour at its Willow Run assembly plant.


  • Ford Motor Company returns to full-time auto production.
  • Henry Ford II is named Ford Motor Company president.


  • Henry Ford II hires 10 young former U.S. Air Force officers, nicknamed the Whiz Kids, who bring the principles of modern management to the company.


  • Henry Ford dies at age 83 at Fair Lane, his estate in Dearborn.


  • Orville Wright dies.


  • Ford Motor Company introduces the Thunderbird, whose name is rooted in aviation.


  • Aeronutronic becomes Ford Motor Company division.


  • Ford Motor Company acquires Philco Corporation, later named Philco-Ford Corporation.


  • Ford Motor Company folds Aeronutronic into Philco, strengthening Ford Motor Company's overall participation in space and defense markets.


  • Ford Motor Company introduces the Ford Mustang, whose name is inspired by the WWII fighter plane.


  • Philco-Ford becomes Aeronutronic Ford Corporation, then Ford Aerospace & Communications Corporation in 1976.


  • Henry Ford, a great pioneer of U.S. commercial aviation, is enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio.


  • Ford Aerospace sold to Loral Corporation.


  • William Clay Ford Jr. becomes chairman of Ford Motor Company. In October 2001, he adds the role of Chief Executive Officer


  • Ford Motor Company presents EAA's Countdown to Kitty Hawk, the centerpiece of the nation's celebration of the centennial of flight.


  • Ford's Living Legends Tour kicks off, including aviation-related favorites the Mustang and Thunderbird.


  • Ford Motor Company celebrates its 100th anniversary, the same year the world celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight.
  • EAA's Countdown to Kitty Hawk presented by Ford Motor Company exclusively re-enacts the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., on Dec. 17, 2003 - exactly 100 years later - with the world's most-accurate 1903 Wright Flyer reproduction.


  • Authentic reproduction of 1903 Wright Flyer given to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., for public viewing.


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