After many months of research and thought, both the airframe and engine of the Benoist are slowly making progress as we narrow down on the 100th Anniversary of the first scheduled aircraft airline flight we hope to re-create on January 1st, 2014!

Fantasy of Flight restoration specialist Ken Kellett has single-handedly made a number of wooden components including; all 100 laminated ribs, all the interplane struts, all the wing spars, and both control sticks.

He began by building a mock-up of the critical center part of the plane where the pilot, engine, propellor, chain-drive, radiator, fuel tank, and main structure are located.  This will give a basic idea of where everything fits in relation to each other.

Mock-up of the center part of the Benoist.

Ken built a jig for construction of the wing panels and currently has the top wing center-section assembled in it and ready for gluing.

Top Wing Center-Section in Wing Jig.

He also began gluing up the ailerons . . .

Aileron in Jig

and is putting the final touches on the two wing floats.

One of the two lower wing floats with a wing rib on top.

Ken has also begun laying out the structure of the fuselage / hull on a large table top jig.  He built a six-foot dummy pilot (me actually) for use is making sure everything is somewhat ergonomical!

Dummy Pilot with one of two control sticks!  Have I lost my mind?

One of the cool things that happened recently was that many of the Benoist descendants came by for a tour one day.  I was out of town but Ken showed them what we were doing, as they are all following with keen interest.

Ken talks to the Benoist family descendants.

Later, after I got back, early engine expert Steve Littin came by for a visit to check on our progress and tell us how he was progressing on the six-cylinder Roberts engine for the project, which he’s building from scratch!

Ken, Andy, Steve (kneeling), and myself discussing the issues of airframe and engine.

Many of the smaller machined components have been made including hardware, oilers, and carburetor parts.

Brand new engine oilers!

Some of the larger ones like the crankshaft continue to be whittled down to finished size.

Roberts crankshaft undergoing final touches!

As seen in a previous blog post, most of the casting patterns have been made and some casting has begun.  Ideally, we’d like to be assembling the airplane with the engine by the end of this year, as the time is flying by and the Anniversary will be upon us in no time!

We offer a wood shop tour every day at 12:45 pm so come on by Fantasy of Flight and check out the progress!



The Curtiss Pusher I purchased earlier this year is now at Fantasy of Flight!  Shipped down from Idaho, it made the trip in record time in the back of a semi-trailer.  With the help of my guys, we unloaded it and eventually hung the wings on temporarily while we had everyone there.

The precarious part with the help of a forklift!

While in the trailer unloading parts . . . with my three of my guys looking in . . . I couldn’t help but have them pose for a picture!

Grease Monkeys?

As mentioned in a previous blog, I think the airplane will make a great trainer for the Benoist Flying Boat we’re building.

Hangar Flying!

The airplane has since been completely assembled, inspected, and test run.  We now only await paperwork from the FAA.


Progress continues to be made on the Benoist airplane we are building at Fantasy of Flight for the 100th Anniversary of the first scheduled commercial airplane flight on 1/1/2014.

Restoration specialist, Ken Kellett, is heading up the construction of the airframe and has begun making jigs for the fuselage sides, ribs, and a mock-up of the center-section to get an idea of where everything will go.

Most people that reproduce old airplanes only go half the distance to do it right and end up installing a modern engine and don’t get near the same performace as the original.  This is because of the rpm the engine delivers it’s horsepower and turns the propellor.  Most modern engines turn at a higher rpm for use with smaller propellors at higher speeds.  At the speed realm of the older airplanes, modern engines cannot create the thrust needed like a slow moving large diameter propellor.

That’s not the way we like to do things.  However, there was a problem . . . we couldn’t find an engine to purchase ANYWHERE!

There’s a Crankshaft in there somewhere!

I hired Steve Littin of Vintage Auto and Rebuilds in Ohio to scratch build the six-cylinder Roberts engine that we’ll need for the project.

An original cylinder and a mold plug

His company currently builds Rolls Royce Silver Ghost car engines from scratch of the same period and is well-qualified to do the job.  I was able to purchase two four-cylinder Roberts engines but only know of about six original engines that were in museums and unavailable for purchase.

Cylinder Molds

We were able to borrow a six-cylinder Roberts that had been in a crash from Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome to reverse-engineer.  The four-cylinder engines that I have put out 50 hp.  The Benoist uses a six-cylinder Roberts that is basically a stretched four-cylinder to produce 75 hp.  The cylinders and carburetors are identical and the plan is to build the case molds for both the four and six-cylinder engines.

Roughed in Connecting Rods!

It’s an exciting project for everyone.  We’re living our product by pushing our boundaries. It will be great to see how all this unfolds!


I recently did a research trip for the Benoist Flying Boat we are building for the 100th Anniversary of Flight on January 1st, 2014.  Since there are no original drawings of the airframe or existing aircraft in exixtence, employee Ken Kellet and I took off to see what we could find.  As mentioned before, the Benoist uses a rare and unavailable 6-cylinder two-cycle Roberts engine of 75hp, which we hope to also recreate.

We first arrived in Washington D.C to visit the National Air and Space Museum and the Hazy Center to look at similar aircraft.  We were allowed to go through their historical archives, finding pictures and other bits of information that will help us.  They was very accomodating and allowed us to arrive before they opened and inspect a similar Hugo Eckner Flying Boat hanging in one of their galleries with a lift.  This aircraft also used the same engine as the Benoist.  I took lot’s of pictures.

We then took off by car to head up to Hammondsport, NY to visit the Glenn Curtiss Museum where there were two other similar period aircraft.  Continuing on we stopped to check the progress of the Fokker D-7 Fred Murrin is building for me.  The main structure is basically complete and it’s coming along slowly but nicely.

1913 reproduction Curtiss "E" Model Flying Boat at Curtiss Museum

1919 Curtiss "Seagull" at Curtiss Museum

After a day at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidental Library taking pictures of Roberts engine drawings we visited with Steve Littin of Vintage and Auto Rebuilds just outside of Cleveland, OH.  He builds early Rolls Royce Silver Ghost car engines from scratch and is willing to help our desire to build a new Roberts engine for the Benoist Flying Boat.  Steve recently visited Fantasy of Flight and, after discussing the project, took my 4-cylinder Roberts back to Ohio with him as well as all the drawings and manuals we took pictures of to begin the process of figuring out how we’re going to build a new one.

Kermit and Steve Littin with 4-cylinder Roberts engine

I was fortunate to recently acquire a second 4-cylinder Roberts from an auction in England, which just might end up in our 1910 Curtiss Pusher reproduction.  I figured since we’re going to be Roberts engine experts at some point, why not?  I also made an agreement with Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome to borrow their 6-cylinder Roberts, which is currently on display in the St. Pete Museum.  It will be sent to Steve for disassembly for reverse engineering purposes and we all look forward to learning about, building, and running this fascinating engine!  I can only imagine that it’s got to sound like a Harley on steroids!

On a side note, I got a chance to see the original Curtiss Seaplane Schneider Cup winner at the Smithsonian.  The land plane version of this with wheels (R3C-1) was the basis for the “Curtiss” character in my illustrated children’s book All of Life is a School.

"Curtiss" R3C-2 Schneider Cup Racer at NASM

I also got a chance to see the original “Roscoe” at the Crawford Museum in Cleveland, OH, which is also a character in my book.  I was somewhat surprised when I saw it to find it painted gold!  When I wrote the book, I must have got it confused with one of Roscoe Turner’s later racers, which was silver.  Since I was just about to put in the order for another 5000 books, I went to the trouble of changing the color.  I guess that makes the next batch the “Gold Edition!”

Original "Roscoe" Turner Racer at the Crawford Museum

I’ll post updates on the Benoist and Roberts project as we progress.  Once we get this research part done the fun part begins: building!


On January 1st, 2010 I made the announcement that Fantasy of Flight will build a reproduction of the Benoist flying boat which made the first ever commercial flight on January 1st, 1914.  It was a two person aircraft that pilot Tony Jannus flew from St. Petersburg across the Bay to Tampa.  The flight was flown at between 15 and 50 feet and took twenty-three minutes.  After some fanfare, he flew back!  Prior to the flight there was an auction and the Mayor of St. Petersburg bid $400 for the honor of being the first ever commercial passenger.  The later normal fare was $5 and, in the first year of operation, they made about 1200 successful flights!

While several other reenactments have been made over the years with different airplanes, our intent is to build an airplane as accurate as possible, including using a six-cylinder Roberts 2-cycle engine, which we intend to build as well!  Since Fantasy of Flight is all about pushing boundaries, this was a great opportunity for myself and the Aircraft Department to push ours!

Kermit and Tony Jannus in Benoist replica at St. Pete Museum

75 hp Roberts 2-Cycle Engine

Currently, we are doing research on the aircraft and engine and hope to begin construction sometime next year.  We hope to have the airplane ready for test-flights by the summer of 2013. Fortunately, we have a lake on site where we can safely begin testing and tweaking.  I thought it was interesting the original flight was covered on the front page of the St. Pete Times and our announcement was as well . . . 96 years later!