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

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I recently got a chance to fly our Polikarpov Po-2!  It was a Russian training plane designed as a primary trainer and has the distinction of having the longest production run in history from 1928 to 1959 with over 40,000 being built!  During the Great Patriotic War (WWII) the Russians employed a squadron of women operating these at night to harass the enemy by dropping bombs and grenades to keep them from sleeping.  They earned the nickname by their enemy as the “Nachthexen” or the “Night Witches.” 

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Engine Start!

The Aircraft Department had been working on it for some time and the weather was nice a couple of days ago so I decided to take it out and taxi around to get used to it.  It has no brakes and uses a steerable tail skid to slow it down and steer it somewhat on our grass runways.  It has an unusual feature of soloing from the front cockpit, which is different from most biplanes of the period.

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It is powered by a five-cylinder Shvetsov engine with 115hp and has a very distinctive sound while flying.  I hope to put some time on the airplane in the near future as we have a five-hour FAA restriction to fly off locally before I can take up any passengers. This is one of the aircraft featured in the Audio Tour we offer as part of the Fantasy of Flight attraction price, although we only have twenty Audio Wands so it’s first come, first serve.  We also sell the Audio Experience CD in the gift shop as well as at http://www.audioexperiencecd.com.

It’s amazing how something sitting in a static museum can take on a completely different life and energy when you get the engine running and take it to the skies.  Fantasy of Flight is the only aviation facility in the world that currently flies something every day, weather permitting!  While the Po-2 requires a bit of manpower to get it out to the grass, get it started, and then put away, I hope to have the opportunity to fly it during special events and let everyone see and hear this amazing piece of history putt-putt-putting around the sky!

Kermit