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"Welcome to a time machine," said the pilot, Steve Lambrick, as he glanced back to the cabin filled with nine passengers. 

Flight can look clumsy, up close. The three propellers of the Ford Tri-Motor, a 1929 passenger plane, start up one at a time like a lawnmower. After clipping down 40 yards on the concrete strip, wind slipping over the fat, corrugated aluminum wing, the plane is up in the air. 

Small applause breaks out — just like the one in the cabin upon landing.  

This weekend, plane enthusiasts and novices are invited to the Rapid City Regional Airport for rides in a fully restored antique plane engineered by Ford Motors. Part relic, part roller coaster, the plane opened for its first rides on Thursday afternoon in bright, blue skies.

"The engines most likely can't go out," said 8-year-old Keegan Reed. 

Keegan was doing his best to reassure his brother, 11-year-old Connor, who said he was a "maybe."

"It is kind of an old plane," said Connor, watching the pilot atop the cockpit plunging a wooden dipstick down the gasoline chamber.

"Planes don't crash that often," said Keegan, reassuringly.

The plane is loud inside and out. The Reed boys' grandfather, Mike Rowe, 67, said he took a puddle-jumper into Alaska on a fishing trip and wore headphones.

"Those three propellers are for redundancy in case one fails. That makes you feel better, doesn't it?" he asked as he turned to his grandson.

Hosted by Post 39 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, the Ford Tri-Motor beckons to an era when air travel was reserved for glamorous Hollywood stars or dashing pilots out of adventure stories. 

By day, Lambrick flies for United Airlines out of El Paso. On his weekends, he enjoys flying back in time.

"It's on a lot of people's bucket lists," Lambrick said. "I've had people in their 80s or 90s climb aboard and say it's the first plane they flew on."

Told about the eldest Reed boy's concern about an antique plane hurtling 1,000 feet over Rapid City, Lambrick said, "If it's flying 90 years later, it's still good."

Travel in this plane is not a luxury. There's more leg room than a typical coach flight, but no peanuts or complimentary drinks. A slight woozy feeling can set in as the plane seems to react to impulse of wind, but the air is not stale re-circulation but blowing through the window vents. 

"It's like driving a car without power-steering," Lambrick said. 

And the views are amazing — the tan scarp of the Badlands, the green grass of the football field at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, backyard pools and miniature cattle, moving across wide pastures. The cornice of Black Elk Peak is always visible to the south, and on the return leg Bear Butte looms on the horizon.

The plane lands just as abruptly as it takes off, slowing and lowering, slower and lowering -- until a kick of smoke from the burnt rubber of the spinning tires.

On the second flight, Keegan, his grandfather, and his big brother, Connor, got on board. The tri-motor took off without incident, as mom photographed. Twenty minutes later, they returned, smiling.

"Did you like it?" 4-year-old Dillon asked his brothers.

"Oh, that was cool," Connor said. 

"Do we want to go again?" asked Keegan.

"I think I'm done," said their grandfather.

Passengers can sign up online at for a $70 ride (children under 17 are $50). Walk-up tickets — signs are posted on the road to the Rapid City Regional Airport — are $75.

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