The Ford Tri-Motor Airplane was an airplane built by Ford in the 1920s and 1930s. Built entirely out of metal, it was designed to be a passenger plane, but often was converted to cargo or military uses. Using a single propeller engine in the fuselage, and an engine on each wing, the plane was considered to be relatively inexpensive and reliable.
Lao Che Air Freight owned a Ford Tri-Motor for cargo flights across Asia. In 1935, one such flight was scheduled to depart from Shanghai's Nang Tao Airport in the evening, when Earl Weber booked passage for Indiana Jones, Short Round, and Willie Scott on the first available flight from the city - and it happened to be on the Ford Tri-Motor, carrying a load of poultry to Bangkok, Siam.. As Jones and his friends hurried aboard, the pilot took off, leaving Jones' pursuers - Lao Che's associates on the ground.
Determining that killing Jones was worth the cost of the plane, Lao Che radioed the pilot and co-pilot to ditch the plane. While the passengers slept, the pilots dumped the fuel, took the only parachutes aboard and jumped to safety over the eastern Siwalik range. Jones and his companions awoke, realized that a crash was unavoidable, and jumped out of the plane with an inflatable raft.
After the encounter, Jones found an instruction manual for a Ford Trimotor and kept it in his journal, along with a note to learn how to fly a plane. By 1938, he had learned how to fly a plane, but not land.
Behind the scenes
Scenes in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom depicting the Ford tri-motor used both a real Ford tri-motor and several models. One model with a three-foot wingspan was built by ILM's Michael Fulmer and Ira Keeler, and filmed over a snowy mountain set, on the roof of ILM's main stage. A smaller model was used for the pyrotechnic shots for the crash and explosion. A model with a six-foot wingspan was used for detailed shots, while a mock-up of the cockpit was made for cockpit scenes.
The scene in which the plane is shown flying over the Great Wall of China was done with models of both the plane and the landscape, and is possibly a continuity error. The Great Wall of China is located in northern China, and not along the flight route shown in the montage (heading soutwest from Shanghai) towards Chungking and on towards India.
The actual plane used in the filming of Temple of Doom is currently part of the collection of Fantasy of Flight, located in Polk City, Florida.
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