After coming back from my April trip Down Under, I couldn’t imagine a cooler trip coming up anytime soon.  Boy, was I in for a surprise!

In early May, I got a call from my good friend Tony Bianchi that one of his other clients, Peter Livanos (a Greek shipping magnate), was going to dispose of his beautifully restored C-47 that had actually flown in D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge.  The C-47 is a military version of the famous civilian DC-3 and was used to drop paratroopers and supplies in WWII.

Peter and I had seen each others projects at Tony’s place over the years but had never met.  The amount of money he had in the plane was far more than the market would bear so he decided to donate it to either the USAF Museum or the Smithsonian.  Tony interceded and told him that I would keep it flying and consider selling it to me for a fraction of what he had in it.  Peter was aware of what I had been creating over the years and said if I wanted the plane, he would sell it to me and me only.  It was not for sale to anyone else and that if I didn’t want it, it would be donated.  Tony and I continued discussing the possibility while I wrapped my head around what I was getting into.  In early July I headed over to England to “kick the tires,” while rounding up a crew in case I decided to purchase the plane.

First Sight!

After arriving, Tony and I drove out to RAF Kemble about two hours away to see the plane.  It was in great shape and had just come back from the D-Day invasion celebrations in France.  Two of my mechanics, Andy and Wayne, were on stand-by in Florida so I called to tell them to head over so we could inspect the plane further.  I had also contacted Glen Moss, a Florida DC-3 pilot before I left.  He had recently flown across the pond in a twin-Cessna and was still in Europe.  He agreed to fly back with us for expenses so I picked him up at Heathrow.  It was the weekend of the Flying Legends Airshow so Glen and I attended while waiting for my guys to show up a few days later after rounding up tools and items that we’d need.

With Tony in front of my Tempest V project

FAA check-pilot Verne Jobst agreed to come on the trip and, without him, it never would have happened.  I had know Verne over the years while competing in aerobatics and from EAA.  He had given me my B-17 type-rating and kept me current over the years giving me re-currency rides in my Ford Tri-motor, B-25, and Grumman TBM.  He was retired from United and had 8000 hours in DC-3′s.  I had never flown a DC-3 and did not have the type-rating required, let alone an Instrument Rating, which was now required to get typed.  The trip would have to be made VFR (visual flight rules), or basically flying out of the clouds in good weather.

Once my guys showed up, we had Peter’s chief pilot run up the plane for us and began to seriously inspect the plane.  The last thing I wanted was a big broken down airplane in a foreign country!  We found a number of small issues and one or two major ones that we fixed.  During this time, Verne was on stand-by to come over while we made several trips back and forth to Tony’s shop.

On one trip, we got a bit lost and I noticed the name of a town that sounded familiar.  It was where my friend Uri Geller lived.  I pulled over, called Uri, and he invited us over to his home!  Uri is best known for his psychic abilities, spoon-bending, and a TV show called The next Uri Geller.  He surprised my guys when he picked up a spoon, began rubbing it with one finger, and it started to bend.  He then proceeded to blow them away when he quit rubbing it, held it up . . . and IT KEPT BENDING!

Kermit, Andy, Uri, Wayne, and Glen

After a longer than expected inspection, we were happy with the airplane and I pulled the trigger on the purchase.  Unfortunately, the closing was delayed for five days because Peter’s agent could not get over from Greece right way.  We used the time to begin prepping the airplane and I told Verne to head on over.

I pull the trigger . . . and agree to purchase the plane!

Another cool aspect of acquiring the plane was that Peter Livanos had a book commissioned about it!  It’s called Legend and was written by Philip Kaplan.  Phil came out to the airfield and gave me an autographed copy.  I ordered another five for the whole crew, with the intent of getting them postmarked at each stop on the way home as I had done when we brought my Short Sunderland Flying Boat across in 1993.

Author Phillip Kaplan and his book Legend!

Another delay that took five days to sort out was the US registration.  Once I had purchased the plane, I found out it was illegal to fly it on the temporary pink-slip registration.  I HAD TO HAVE the official FAA white copy from Oklahoma City.  Without it, the airplane could be impounded at the US border!  After overnighting the paper work to the FAA and several phone calls we received a fax copy that allowed us to fly it into the US.

Official US Registration in Hand!

While we waited for Verne to show up, we took time out to celebrate my July 14th Birthday . . . And my new Birthday Present!

Happy Birthday Kermit!

Soon after, I picked Verne up at Heathrow and we headed back to Kemble to show him the plane.  Knowing he would be jet lagged, we let him get a good nights sleep and the next day flew the plane for the first time!   It flew great and our flight included feathering each engine and three landings for each of us to get current and be legal in the plane.  Photographer Graham Wasey was on hand and recorded the event with some great shots!

First Flight!

Satisfied the plane was running great, we made the decision to head to Wick, Scotland the next day and began loading the airplane for the trip.  The weather looked good but appeared to be moving into our destination the following day.  We figured the first leg would be over land, it would be a great shake-down flight, and there would be plenty of airfields to land at should we have problem.

One last fly-by before heading to Scotland!

The trip up was four hours and was a great confidence builder in the plane.  We were only burning 84 gallons of fuel total per hour and and less that a quart of oil per engine per hour.  This gave us about 9 hours of fuel range.

As it turned out, our evaluation of the weather was correct and we got stuck in Scotland for three days.  We still had a lot preparation to do that included installing an HF radio for the crossing and getting checked out on the survival gear we rented.

Immersion suits, life rafts, and survival gear that included a bottle of Scotch!

After two days of bad weather and preparing for the leg to Iceland, it suddenly turned gorgeous.  Unfortunately, the weather to Iceland was not so nice so we went off to tour the Scottish countryside.  Our first stop was a little town called John O’Groats, which is the northernmost point on the British Island.  They had a place to take your picture with different mileages.  It was then that it hit us the magnitude of the journey were were about to embark up.  Our destination was Oshkosh, WI, where I had arranged to put the plane in the EAA Museum while I figured out where I was going to find room for it at Fantasy of Flight.  It was 4000 miles away!

Oh my God . . . what have we gotten ourselves into!

The next day looked better so we checked out of our hotel, turned in the car, and loaded up the plane.  The morning weather was a bit iffy but improving so we decided to go.

Leaving the Scottish Coast!

Back of the plane with original seats heading to Iceland

The weather was great until we got to Iceland, where we had to dodge some clouds to get into Rejkjavik.  The trip up was 5 1/2  hours.  We got stuck there the next day waiting for some weather to go through.

I had told the guys before the trip to pack a swimsuit, which got some concerned looks and comments.  No, not for bobbing around in the North Atlantic in case we went down, but in case we got stuck in Iceland as I’d done on the Short Sunderland trip.  Back then, we got stuck for four days because of weather over Canada and began taking in the sights.  While touring around, we discovered a volcanic hot springs called the Blue Lagoon and soaked up some of the local culture.  My guys were not to be disappointed when I took them there the next day!

Soaking up the Icelandic Culture!

The following day, the weather improved and we left for Narsarsuaq, Greenland.  Our original intent was to head to an airfield on the east side because of fuel considerations, but soon after leaving the weather looked good enough to head further south.  There are not a lot of airports to choose from in Greenland and the last thing we wanted to do was run out of fuel trying to get to one because of weather.  Narsarsuaq was also our most direct route home.

Headed to Greenland with our GPS leading the way!

The weather was gorgeous when we got to Greenland 5 hours later!  We flew around to the southernmost end and cut across the mountains.  The scenery was absolutely breathtaking with icepack, fjords, mountains, and glaciers!  We landed at an ex-WWII airfield where, more than likely, this plane had landed on its way over to Europe in WWII.

A welcome but forbidding sight!

While the fuel prices were lower that expected, but still high ($18/gallon), the hotel accommodations and food were out of sight.  $800 for three rooms and $800 for our celebratory dinner!  We had arrived on a Saturday and were told the services at the airport were not “officially” open on weekends.  The weather didn’t look too bad the next day so I bit the bullet and shelled out another $800 for someone to come out and “allow” us to depart!

Somewhere over the Labrador Sea!

After dodging a few clouds, we arrived 5 1/2 hours later over another continent and landed at Goose Bay, Canada.  We had crossed the Atlantic and celebrated out success that evening at far more reasonable prices!

The weather looked good the next day so we headed across land to pick up the St. Lawrence River with the intent of making Quebec City.  As it turned out, when we got closer, the weather didn’t look too promising, so we landed just short at french-speaking Mont Joli, Quebec.  This proved to be a good decision as it was bad ahead and moving our way.  Hardly anyone spoke English and we began to wonder if we had somehow made a wrong turn!

Waiting out the weather in Mont Joli!

We got stuck a day there and then headed on to Ottawa, Ontario the following day.  We made it to Ottawa just as some weather was moving in from the west and spent the night.

Heading down the St. Lawrence to Ottawa

The next day would turn out to be our last flying day of the trip and the weather gods came through and treated us to some beautiful weather for the final legs of our journey.  We crossed the Great Lakes and landed in Green Bay, WI to clear US Customs.

Crossing the Great Lakes!

After a short stop, we headed south for the short flight to Oshkosh.  There we were greeted by many of the staff of EAA and began to celebrate our accomplishment in front of the Kermit Weeks Flight Research Hangar!

We made it!

The next day we unpacked the plane, defueled it, and towed it over to the EAA Museum.  We had missed making the Oshkosh Fly-In by four days and there were still a lot of things to weave around to get there.

Towing her over to the Museum!

The plan is to leave the plane at the Museum, hopefully no later than next spring, until we can sort out making some room for it inside at Fantasy of Flight.  I hope to have a new storage facility built by then so we can thin out the hangars and make it happen.

Mission Accomplished!

After my unbelievably fun trip to New Zealand in April, I had no idea in May that this adventure was in my future.  The trip was now over and we had put the airplane is a safe place where many people could visit and admire her.  We were happy we’d made it . . . but were also now sad it was actually over.  It was fun, albeit with some anxiety at times, but most of all . . . it was a most memorable trip we will never forget!

In total, the trip comprised of 33 hours flying over 12 days and 4500 miles!  And while I’m glad that I got a great deal on the plane . . . I’m not so sure I really want to know what the trip cost me!

Kermit

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

grumman-duck-in-flightWe hosted our second Splash-In event as part of the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In on Thursday, April 23rd.  It was a great success!  Last year we had 85 seaplanes and this year we had 101!  The weather was perfect and I got a chance to fly the Grumman Duck for everyone.  We are beginning to plan and promote our own Seaplane Fly-In during the last weekend of September of this year so keep your eyes peeled for more information.  With our great shoreline and seaplane ramp, we have the potential to create one of the premier Seaplane Fly-In’s in the world!

ford-tri-motor-with-hong-my-and-dan-cherryOf course, during the Fly-In I get to meet many new and old friends.  One of the more interesting new ones were Lt. Hong My and Dan Cherry.  The first time they met was in the skies over Hanoi, Vietnam where Dan Cherry flying an F-4 Phantom shot down Hong My in his Mig 21.  They got reacquainted 37 years later and have since become friends, visiting each other homes and doing special events.  They happened to be over at the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In and I was asked to fly them over and give them a tour of Fantasy of Flight.  I picked them up in my Ford Tri-Motor and gave them both the opportunity to try their hand at flying it.  It was very interesting to say the least because you hardly use the rudder in a jet except to steer on the ground and the Ford is very much a rudder airplane.  I think it was a bit of a shock to both of them to watch the slip ball swing from side to side as they tried to wrestle the Ford around the sky.  After landing, I gave them a grand tour of our facility!

b-25-with-kermit-and-steve-brownAnother person that came by for a visit was an old acquaintance but new Head of the CAF (now Commemorative Air Force).  I gave him a tour of Fantasy of Flight and explained my Vision as to where we were headed.  He seemed deeply influenced by some of the things I was proposing as well as some of the things we were currently doing.  I let him sit in the cockpit of the Polikarpov Po-2 while he listened to the Audio Experience about the Night Witches.  When we climbed out of the cockpit he said, “I HAVE  to play this to my Board of Directors . . . this is exactly what they need to hear!”  The next day he brought by several of his staff to show them the facility and listen to some of the Audio Experiences.  Not a bad testimonial!

Kermit

tbmI recently flew the last airplane from what was the Weeks Air Museum in Miami to Fantasy of Flight.  It was my Grumman TBM Avenger Torpedo Bomber from WWII.  I flew this airplane until it was damaged by Hurricane Andrew in August of 1992.  Over the years many airplanes were either trucked out of Miami or flown out after being made flyable.  The TBM is the last airplane to finally come home and is somewhat the end of an era.  There is only one wing left on display at the now Wings Over Miami Museum and once that leaves, the only thing left of mine in Miami will be my mother!

I flew the TBM back from California in the 1980′s after purchasing it where we put it in the colors of George Bush Sr. who flew them during the war and was shot down twice.  He was running for President at the time and the Republican National Party asked me to fly it up to Tampa for a press event.  I arrived early as the FBI had to check it over for bombs.  I told them it used to have a Torpedo!  

Anyway, when the then Vice-President Bush arrived and came out of  Air Force 2 with Barry Goldwater in tow, he bee-lined it straight for the cockpit of the TBM.  After following him up the wing and leaning over the side of the cockpit as he looked around like a kid again he said, “Kermit, I think if my life depended on it, I could take this off and get it around the patch!”

Over the years the guys at the Museum down there worked on it for me after getting the TP-40 flyable.  I went down last summer to test-fly it for the first time in over 15 years but had some magneto problems.  We sent them off for overhauled and recently went down and installed them.  After one safe 40-minute test flight over the airport I launched off for an uneventful flight to Fantasy of Flight.  Since we were on a ferry permit we will not be able to fly the aircraft until we do some additional work to bring everything up to airworthy standards.  We need to change out some fuel tanks, overhaul some instruments, clean it up a bit and put a paint job on it.  Once we do this it will be a great addition to Aircraft of the Day!

Kermit

As most of you know Hurricane Andrew devastated the Weeks Air Museum in Miami in August of 1992. As we were digging out of the rubble in Miami and rebuilding the Museum down there we slowly began the development of Fantasy of Flight here in Central Florida. Many of the airplanes were either sent out for repair or slowly moved to Central Florida. A new group of enthusiasts continued on with the Miami facility as the Wings Over Miami Museum.

My last flyable airplane on display in Miami was a Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bomber. Over the years, the Hurricane damage was repaired with the intention of flying it to Fantasy of Flight. Well, last week was the big date to test fly the aircraft and hopefully bring it up. I had last flown the TBM since just before the Hurricane over 15 years ago and needed to get recurrent at the same time I was test flying the airplane as the FAA requires a re-currency check on any airplanes over 12,500 lbs. The first flight went great and my only concern was I had recently been flying my little Grumman Wildcat fighter and when I got the TBM off the ground I thought the control stick had somehow been set in concrete! I couldn’t believe how heavy the controls were compared to the Wildcat. It all slowly came back to me and I became comfortable very quickly.

While I got my recurrency check complete, I was not able to fly the airplane home as it developed some ignition problems. We had to take the magnetos off as well and order a new set of spark plugs. As soon as that is fixed, we will get the airplane up to Fantasy of Flight! I drove home with the check-pilot and we then jumped into the Ford Tri-Motor and I got recurrent in that. So, if you come to visit in the future there is a chance you may see the Grumman Wildcat, the Grumman TBM or the Ford Tri-Motor in the pattern!

I am also about to head off around the world with a first top in Maui to work on a book about my 10-Program experience at the Monroe Institute. If you think you might be interested in exploring Inner Consciousness and Out of Body experiences, check out www.monroeinstitute.org. I hope to have most the book, “The Journey Never Ends!”, edited by the end of this year.

I’m then off to New Zealand to spend some time with Peter Jackson (director of Lord of the Rings and King Kong). He is a WWI airplane nut like me and has an amazing bunch of airplanes being built up. I loaned him 3 WWI German Mercedes engines and will get to see the first one running on the stand while I’m down there. He is using them for patterns and is in process of building engines from SCRATCH! We also just send him a crankshaft for a Hisso for one of his SE-5′s he built. I hope to get to fly one while I’m there. I had also loaned him the front and rear turrets off my Lancaster Project as he is under development to redo the “Dambuster” film! He had about eight full-size Lancs built out of fiberglass. I am sure he will do a great job and can’t wait to see the film!

Then I’m off to Australia for some business meetings, but not before I stop in and look at my Kingfisher and P-39 projects in Wangaretta, north of Melbourne. I continue on to London to check on the final stages of my Hawker Tempest V project, which we are bringing up to displayable condition. Everything has been rebuilt to airworthy standards but we are currently just trying to get it displayable for Fantasy of Flight. I have two Napier Sabre engines for it and one day hope to make it fly!

I get home just in time to catch up for a few days and then head to Oshkosh to promote my book, “All of Life is a School!” It’s all about the Journey so enjoy what you love to do!

Kermit