Over the three day weekend after Thanksgiving we celebrated having been open for 15 years!

Our initial Grand Opening Gala was on on Veterans Day, November 11, 1995 and included a “thousand of my closest friends.”  People still talk about our amazing opening party where everyone dressed up in WWII Period Formal Dress or Black Tie.  We laid out the red carpet with searchlights, guard gates and re-enactors, Paparazzi photographers when you arrived to valet your car, a champagne reception, tour of the immersion environments, flight-themed laser light show, my welcoming speech, night aerobatics with pyro coming off the wings, fireworks, USO style Big Band, amazing food and drink, an air raid siren with simulated bombing and strafing, a French Cafe with decadent desserts, and then a Rock & Roll Band until the wee hours!  We opened to the public several weekends later after we recouperated.

To help celebrate our 15-year Anniversary we flew 15 different airplanes over the weekend, flying five different airplanes per day.  We also had many things themed around the “15th” for our guests and drew a raffle ticket for a great prize every time I flew one of the planes.  One group from the United Kingdom got in free, got a free lunch, AND won one of the raffle ticket prizes!  I told them they needed to buy a lotto ticket as well!

While I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplised so far in 15 years, which I now see as laying the foundation for our future.  I’m even more excited about the next 15, which will be the implementation of our future and a fun, creative and exciting time.  Starting in 2011, we will hit the ground running to revamp our existing product and facility even more.  We plan to re-theme all the old exhibits, add new ones, as well as add new tours and shows.

I thought it would be fun to share with you the 15 different airplanes I flew over the three days and in their order -

Friday #1 - Piper L-4

Friday #2 - Norde Stampe

Friday #3 - Stinson Tri-Motor

Friday #4 - Grumman TBM

Friday #5 - Grumman Wildcat

Saturday #1 - Bucker Bestmann

Saturday #2 - Polikarpov Po-2

Saturday #3 - Ford Tri-Motor

Saturday #4 - North American AT-6D

Saturday # 5 - North American P-51C

Sunday #1 - Fiesler Storch

Sunday #2 - Avro Cadet

Sunday #3 - Travelair 4000

Sunday #4 - Grumman Duck

Sunday #5 - North American P-51D with Aircraft Department celebrating with Champagne!

With Legoland opening at the old Cypress Gardens site next fall, we hope to ride on the coat tails of their marketing efforts to bring more tourists to Polk County.  Other happenings in the works that will help our long-term success will be the widening of our intersection at Interstate 4, Exit 44, as well as the initial construction of a High Speed Rail and stop down the center of the I-4 corridor.  Orlando to Tampa was THE #1 location for government support of a High Speed Rail System in the United States and the stars are beginning to line up for Orlampa!

We are all having fun developing Fantasy of Flight into something that does not yet exist.  Our future product is all about pushing our boundaries and reaching beyond ourselves and to get to where we need to go, we will all need to do it ourselves in spades!  In the end though, it’s not about getting to the destination . . . but the process and experience of getting there!  And while I would love to have it all done tomorrow, I realize it’s not my timetable and it will happen in its own time.  Not a problem for me as I’m doing what I love . . . and love what I’m doing!

Keep an eye on us and visit us from time to time . . . we’re going to do great things!

Kermit

I arrived home late evening from my trip to Egypt on a Wednesday and had to wake up early the next morning and hit the ground running.  This was the day of the Sun ‘n Fun Splash-In at Fantasy of Flight and I was scheduled to pick up an important visitor on the Sun ‘n Fun ramp at 9:30am.  It was none other than Jeff Skiles, the copilot on the US Air Flight 1549 that successfully landed in the Hudson River in January of 2009.  It was billed in the media as the “Miracle on the Hudson” and all 155 people aboard survived.

We had arranged for Jeff to come over to Fantasy of Flight and speak about his experience at a special luncheon in the Orlampa Conference Center.  Since it was the day of the Splash-In, I thought it would be great to bring Jeff over in the Duck for a grand arrival on the shores of Lake Agnes.  Jeff and Sun ‘n Fun officials greeted me and, after some pictures, we both jumped in the Duck to head back to Fantasy of Flight.   Cruising over, and talking on the intercomm, I was not too surprised to learn that Jeff had never been in a Grumman Duck.  But what did surprise me was we were just about to make his first ever water landing in an airplane that could actually take-off again!

I let Jeff do the flying on the way over and he did a great job.  It’s not very easy to see out of the back (let alone the front!) and the controls are not as pilot friendly as in the front cockpit.  Anyway, after landing the Duck in the lake and getting out, I made him sign the airplane logbook stating this was his first successful landing in an airplane he didn’t have to swim away from!

Kermit

We recently held a symposium with four WWII Women’s Air Force Service Pilots who came and spoke about their experiences.  Visitors got to listen to great stories and ask questions of how they overcame the predudice of the times in pursuit of their love for flying and helping support the war effort.  The gals help test and ferry military aircraft around the United States, which helped relieve the guys for combat duty.  Everything the guys flew, the gals did as well; including our first P-80 jet-fighter and our large B-29 Superfortress bomber, which ultimately ended the war by dropping the atomic bomb!

Taking a break during the symposium for Aircraft of the Day, I flew our North American AT-6 Texan trainer painted in WASP colors to honor them.  The aircraft markings at their training base in Sweetwater, Texas included red wings stripes, a red nose and tail, and the Disney-designed WASP mascot named “Fifinella” on the cowl.  Never one to miss an opportunity, I strapped one of the gals in the back seat and, after making a few passes for the crowd, flew off to let her do some flying of her own.  She did great!

Not only did the gals help inspire what later became the women’s movement for equal rights, they were babes as well, which still continues to show!  There is no question that when the guys came back from the war, they came back to a different type of woman!  I’ve had many opportunities over the years to get to know many of the gals and am saddened we are slowly losing them over time.  My hats are off to them for what they did, as well as their continued interest in sharing their inspiring stories.  I think it was a great trip down memory lane for everyone in attendance.

I am also excited to annouce that we have completely a long-awaited project honoring the WASP’s in a very unique way.  Women patrons visiting our center hangar restroom facilities will be surprised to find a new addition.  One wall now has a life-size famous picture of four WASP’s walking down a flightline, parachutes in hand, with a saying written backwards above them.  You initially don’t exactly know what’s going on until you stand by it, turn around and read the saying in a large mirror.  You become part of the picture, in front of the gals, and read the throught-provoking message, now correctly written.  Click on the picture above, read it backwards with a mirror, imagine yourself lifesize in front of the gals, and you will get the basic effect.

Plaque on Stall Door

To take the “facility experience” to an even greater level, each bathroom stall now has a different airplane picture and its name on the door.

Spitfire cockpit on bathroom stall door

Once seated you find yourself looking into the cockpit of one of the famous planes the WASP’s flew, which are on display!  I hope all the gals reading this will come out to Fantasy of Flight to check-out in our new immersive experiences!

Mustang cockpit from "seat" POV!

And, while everyone else will remember these gals as the WASP’s . . . to me, they will always be my “Honeybees!”

Kermit

For many years, Fantasy of Flight employees have reported strange happenings at the attraction including; things falling off shelves, adding and copying machines running by themselves, a sense of presences, and actual sightings.  We just came to accept them over the years and assume their energies are connected to the airplanes.  I also sense they’re connected to what we are trying to create as well, which is partly to get people to look beyond their five-sense reality and realize more of what they truly are.

Several years ago, we had an amateur Paranormal Research Group approach us wanting to check out Fantasy of Flight for paranormal activity.  We did not instigate this, they came to us.  They did two separate all-night investigations several months apart and came up with some really interesting stuff.  One of the more profound pictures came from inside the B-17 when a presence was sensed and a digital photo was taken.  What showed up was an absolutely clear full-color person that appears to be a scared B-17 crew member wearing a May West and sporting a five-O’clock shadow!

Original Ghost Photo in B-17. Notice three fingers coming down from the top and yellow Mae West.

We went back later to try and duplicate the photo with someone standing on a ladder looking in but you could barely make them out.  After some shots were taken inside the airplane with an onlooker, it became apparent the flash from the camera was helping reflect their image on the Plexiglass window.  Once we realized the green airplane part the “person” was peering around was the curved bulkhead inside the airplane, we realized the “person” was not peering from outside the airplane but from the INSIDE!

Look at the expression on the face, the five O'Clock shadow, and a scar or blood on the forehead!

About a year later, a completely separate group came to us after one of their friend’s wife mentioned seeing an apparition while visiting Fantasy of Flight.  She saw it sitting in one of the P-51 Mustangs, in broad daylight, complete with helmet and goggles!  When she turned away and then looked back, it was gone.  She was a very religions person and, with conviction, told the story until she passed away.  Because of this somewhat synchronistic event, the second group came to us and did several investigations.  They told us, on a scale of one to ten regarding activity, Fantasy of Flight was an eleven!  We since hired them to run the actual investigations for the public, which normally include three groups of ten.  We began with three scheduled events but quickly had to add four more because of the interest.  One person has attended four times!

Photo taken in Fightertown with a camera set up on a tripod with a timer

These are NOT Ghost Tours, but serious investigations.  I attended one of the early ones before we offered them to the public and meditated in the B-17 after midnight for an hour and a half.  Once I felt somewhat connected to their energies, I first asked if any wanted to move beyond their current reality, as I have LOTS of “Friends” on the Other Side I met during my explorations of Inner Realities that could help them out.  I sensed a very small percentage (2-4%) moved on.   When I asked if the rest were OK with us doing the investigations, I got back a resounding, “Hell yeah!”

Overall, Night Flight has been a great success!  We make it a point NOT to pre-load people prior to the investigations about specifics but later open up at the end.  During the debriefings, most relate some type of connection and/or experience from the investigation!  Some feel they have been physically touched or see things, and several women, on separate investigations, have been overcome by such a strong sense of sadness in one particular spot they’ve had to leave the room.  Recently, there has been one apparent apparition that has shown up twice in full physical form that is neither anyone working for me or is one of the patrons!  This will be one to look out for in the future.

Night Flight experiences are currently held on Saturday nights from 9:30pm – 1:30pm.  Check them out at http://www.nightflightexperience.com/.

Kermit

We recently hosted a symposium with several Tuskegee Airmen at Fantasy of Flight in celebration of Black History month.  It was a great success and over the three-day event 500 school kids, as well as many adults, came out to hear their stories, ask questions, and get autographs.

With Roscoe Brown - 1st pilot ever to shoot down a German Me-262 Jet!

Flying "Ina the Macon Belle"

I flew the P-51C Mustang ”Ina the Macon Belle” all three days, which is painted in the colors of Lee Archer, the highest scoring Tuskegee pilot.  Lee was looking forward to coming down for the event but fell ill three weeks prior and passed away.  His story was covered on many of the National news stations and he was buried with full-military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.  Lee was a great friend and, while he will be surely missed, his story and the story of the Tuskegee Airmen will continue to live on at Fantasy of Flight!

Kermit

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