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

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