Most everyone is aware of the two beautiful P-51 Mustangs we have on display at Fantasy of Flight: P-51C, Ina the Macon Belle, and P-51D, Cripes A’Mighty. But did you know that I’ve also had a North American P-51A in storage for many years?  I purchased it in the early 1980′s but, because I had first the “D”, and then the “C” to fly, I never really pursued getting the “A” flyable and focused on other projects.

The project is in great shape and years ago I sent the it out to Art Teeters’ Cal Pacific Airmotive in California to slowly begin working on.  I was in no hurry and the project has been on and off the “burner” for several decades.  Art and his son Dave did the restorations on both the “C” and the “D”, which both won Grand Champion Warbird at the Sun ‘n Fun as well as the Oshkosh Fly-In’s.  It seemed only natural to let them do the “A.”

New Stainless Steel Parts

Recently, I told Art to get back on the project again.  They had just completed the metalwork on another P-51A project and the shop was now up to speed on its slightly different construction.  It seemed only natural to take advantage of their current knowledge.

There came a great opportunity to visit the shop again when I was invited out to Dave Teeters recent wedding!  I had not been out to the shop in years.  One wing is basically done and the other is in assembly.  Currently they are focusing on finishing up the wings before diving in to the fuselage.

Right Aileron in Jig

As we began to think of how we were going to paint the airplane, I decided to do something different.  It seems everyone wants their airplane to stand out from the crowd, whether its the paint job or some special thing about it that no one else has.  Well, I guess I’m no different!

Early in the War, the factory made some of the P-51A’s with cannons instead of guns.  They were built mostly for the British but in researching into it, I discovered there were a few Americans that flew them as well.

Second Wing Half in Jig

Left Wing in Jig

Eventually, we discovered a likely candidate flown in the Mediterranean Theater by a 1st Lt. Dean R. Gilmore in a 111th Photo Recon paint scheme.  It was an airplane called Snoopers with some great artwork on the nose depicting its photo mission status as well as the number of missions it had flown.  Dean was awarded the DFC for one of his Recon missions over Monte Cassino, Italy and went on to fly 91 missions between August, 1943 and May, 1944.  By the time he returned home, he had accumulated a total of 194 combat flying hours and had flown more missions than anyone else in his squadron.

As a side twist to all this, Racing Legend Jack Roush at one point wanted to buy my P-51C but I told him it was not for sale.  He did the next best thing and acquired a data plate and paperwork for an early Mustang and had it basically built up from scratch by Cal Pacific Airmotive.  He originally intended to paint it in Dean’s colors but eventually decided on a paint scheme for another P-51B.

Lt. Gilmore and Snoopers

But this is where the story gets interesting.  After serving overseas, Dean returned to the States to train other pilots in Central Florida, flying out of the Bartow Airbase.  Unfortunately, he was killed on a training mission in a P-51B over Lake Louisa, near Clermont, FL just north of Fantasy of Flight.

Through an amazing twist of synchronicity, I had been asked years ago to do a fly-over for a memorial service in Cripes A’Mighty while family and friends watched from the shoreline.  I had no idea at the time that IT WAS OVER LAKE LOUISA AND WAS FOR LT. GILMORE!

The event was to commemorate a memorial for Dean’s contributions and sacrifices, which now stands at the south shore of Lake Louisa.  To add another bizarre twist to the story , the wreck Jack Roush got his data plate from WAS FROM THE RECOVERED WRECK OF LAKE LOUISA!

Lt. Gilmore's Noseart!

Needless to say, his family is very excited about the project and have offered to help in any way with information and photos.  In the words of famous radio personality Paul Harvey . . . “So now you know . . . the rest of the story!”

If you want to learn more about Lt. Gilmore and his exploits, check out http://www.swissmustangs.ch/72468.html.

Kermit

Last year I was honored by being inducted into the World Acrobatics Society Hall of Fame in Extreme Sports for my accomplishments in airplane aerobatics.  This was also partly due to  my beginning background in Gymnastics, where I competed on my High School’s first year Gymnastic Team and later went on to compete at the college level.  While I never got to the level of my flying, it was certainly an influence in my early pursuit of competition aerobatics.

One of the cool things after being inducted  was that I was now able to nominate others.  I was not aware of this until asked to do so for my category of Extreme Sports.  There was no question who that would be: my good friend Sean Tucker!  I had know Sean over the years from the flying circuit and we were Heli-ski partners for ten years.  He is, without a doubt, the most prolific solo airshow performer in the world and has dazzled millions of spectators over the years as well as given back to the aviation community by inspiring speeches as well as running a flight school to teach aerobatics, flight safety, and unusual attitudes to many pilots.

Two Extreme Sports Awardees's!

This September I was honored to return to Las Vegas to present Sean with his Award.  Go Sean!

Kermit

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

After my annual trip to Australia for meetings, I stopped in to see my friend Gene DeMarco with the Vintage Aviator Ltd. (TVAL) in Wellington, New Zealand.  I went to check up on the status of a couple of projects they had been working on as part of a trade I made with his boss Peter Jackson and hopefully participate in the upcoming Omaka Airshow.  I met Peter years ago in New Zealand through Gene and he has since come to visit Fantasy of Flight where I gave him a vision tour, looked at my WWI collection, and took him flying in a Stearman.  Peter is an avid enthusiast of WWI airplanes and we struck a deal for a trade that involved my original and extremely rare Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter.  Initially I was somewhat reluctant to part with such a rare airplane but he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.  The Sopwith for two new production WWI reproductions using two original engines that I would supply and they overhaul.

The first aircraft completed was a German Albatros D-Va and is an absolutely beautiful piece of art!

Proud new owner of an Albatros D-Va!

I arrived about a week before two of my mechanics did and got a chance to first get checked out in their original prototype.  Since Gene had to do the initial test flights for the NZ CAA, I flew the prototype while Gene put some time on mine.  A great kid named Bevan Dewes was onsite with a new camera and took some great shots of us flying.  What an absolute blast!

On Patrol with Gene test-flying mine and me in the prototype!

The main thing we did during our flights was tighten up the rigging on the prototype, which was way too loose for my tastes, and then proceeded to do the same to mine.

The Bad Boys are in town!

They did a magnificent job on the construction, which included reproducing the original instruments, radiator, seat belts, etc.  The original in-line six-cylinder Mercedes engine is a joy to hear and fly behind and with it’s low rpm, sounds like a John Deere tractor!  One of the more interesting things about operating it is that you have to twist a screw about every ten minutes on a grease canister mounted in the cockpit to keep coolant from leaking into the engine.  It has a rather interesting starting procedure where the mechanic has to climb up on the tire to grab a handle on the engine to lift the cam for starting, which then has to be lowered after the prop is turning!  True to the original, there are no brakes and a tailskid.  The radiator gauge and cooling shutter handle are outside the cockpit in the slipstream and only add to the whole experiencing of flying this wonderful piece of history!

Cockpit showing the external radiator gauge on strut and shutter control with wooden handle

Once the time was flown off by Gene, I got to start flying it.  Soon after, my guys showed up and we all got a chance to play with some of Peter’s other airplanes.  While Gene gave rides to my guys, I jumped in a number of other airplanes and joined in the fun.

Me flying an original Be-2c

Gene giving a ride to one of my guys in an original Bristol Fighter while I follow in a SE-5a

Not to be one not to partake in the rides, Gene let me play gunner in an Fe-2b they had built using an original Beardmore engine.  Oh my God . . . what a blast!  Literally!  I couldn’t help but not pose for some shots as we did some fly-bys!

Recognize the Gunner?

The Albatros passed it’s test-flights with flying colors and I was now comfortable in the airplane.   We began the disassembly process to take it over to the south island by ferry for the Omaka Airshow.  After arriving, everyone pitched in to re-assemble it as preparations for the show began.  We took the time to visit the onsite museum, which Peter and graciously supplied with many of his airplanes for display.

Albatros on the Omaka show line with seven Fokker Triplanes!

My part of the two-day show was to dogfight with Gene in a rotary powered Sopwith Camel as seven Fokker Triplanes made fly-bys in different formations.  There were other WWI planes flying as well and it had to have been the biggest group of WWI airplanes flying at one time since WWI!  I later got to go up for a photo mission with a helicopter and photographer Gavin Conroy got some unbelievable shots over the countryside.

Phenomenal shot taken over the Omaka countryside!

Although Peter was deep in to filming The Hobbit, he took the time to give everyone a break so he come over and attend the show.  I got the chance to visit his VIP Chalet on the flightline where I got to hang out with Peter and some of the actors.  While in Wellington, I got to visit the Hobbit set twice, which was a fascinating experience.  It’s amazing to see how many people it takes to pull off a major motion picture production like that.  The second time, my guys were with me and we got to watch Gandalf (Ian McKellan) do his stuff.

With Peter and Gene at the Omaka Airshow!

After the show was over, I got to visit with Richard Taylor at the Weta Workshops.  Richard and Weta are the genius behind all the computer graphics that support Peter’s endeavors as well as other films.  They’ve won many Oscars and awards for their work that includes: Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Avatar, and Chronicles of Narnia to name a few!  Richard is working with me on several small projects for Fantasy of Flight and is a great guy.

With Richard at Weta Workshop

As if this wasn’t all cool enough, we also got to check up on the second airplane Gene and Peter’s guys are building for me . . . a WWI British Sopwith Snipe with an original Bentley rotary engine!  The Snipe was the airplane intended to replace the famous Sopwith Camel at the end of the War and was powered by the most powerful rotary ever built.  The Bentley engine has the distinction of being the first engine produced using cast aluminum cylinders with steel liners.  Gene’s guys overhauled both my Mercedes for the Albatros and my Bentley for the Snipe.

When I first arrived, the Snipe was just being covered.

Snipe fuselage being covered at the TVAL workshops

By the time we left, it was painted and being rigged for assembly.  Amazing!  Many small items still need to be accomplished before it’s ready to fly but it will make a great addition to the Fantasy of Flight collection.

Snipe being rigged for the final fitting of bracing wires, etc.

Now, was that a cool trip or what?  When I grow up . . . I want to be me!

Kermit

I attended this year’s Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In in the Grumman Duck, which I brought it over the first day of the show because we had so many things going on at Fantasy of Flight.  Due to weather in northern Florida, the Warbird ramp was essentially empty when I arrived!

An empty Warbird Ramp!

On Thursday of the Fly-In, I was to fly the head of the FAA, Randy Babbitt, over to the Splash-In, which Fantasy of Flight was hosting.  Unfortunately, bad weather moved in that morning and devastating winds (possibly a tornado) hit the site and damaged a number of airplanes and displays.

Day of the Splash-In!

Thankfully, the Duck had been put inside a hangar the night before in anticipation of the approaching weather.  While Fantasy of Flight missed the worst of the weather, it dampened the Splash-In, which was held the next day.

Some of the airplane damage at Sun 'n Fun!

Randy and his entourage drove over instead and I got a chance to show them around and give them the vision tour of what we’re creating.

Touring the head of the FAA

I got to visit the Fly-In during the week and checked out my dream jet . . . the Phoenom 300!

My Dream Jet!

Hopefully I will be able to justify one, if and when Stayhealthy pays off!

Kermit

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