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!


Was in Wichita, KS for a Board meeting with the Lindbergh Foundation and got a chance to check up on the progress of my Grumman Duck.  The fuselage and hull are basically finished as far as the structure goes.

Duck Float

I purchased this airplane in the late 1980’s from a gentleman named Sam Poole out of Lake Wales, Florida.  I happened to stop in and see it in the mid-eighties when I was coming up to Central Florida looking for a place to expand, which eventually became Fantasy of Flight.

Sam had flown the airplane in South America and at one point held the longest water-taxi record in the world.  He had damaged a float during take-off on a submerged log and didn’t want to take the chance flying it.  So he ended up taxiing it . . . 400 miles down the Amazon!

If I remember the story correctly, he picked up a couple of nuns along the way and when the river began winding forever back and forth closer to his destination, he realized he didn’t have enough fuel to taxi the rest of the way.  He did a somewhat shade-tree repair (which was still evident when I got the plane), got the nuns to roll their rosary beads a few times with a prayer, and flew the rest of the way!

Fuselage Sheet Metal is basically done!

The wings still need rebuilding but the project has been put on a back-burner project for now, as we have the flying Grumman Duck Candy Clipper on display at Fantasy of Flight.  The Duck was one of my first Warbirds and I still remember going out flying out of Tamiami Airport in Miami with some great tower controllers.  I’d show up five miles southwest of the airport, key the radio, and just say, “Quack, Quack” . . . and they’d clear me to land!


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!


I arrived home late evening from my trip to Egypt on a Wednesday and had to wake up early the next morning and hit the ground running.  This was the day of the Sun ‘n Fun Splash-In at Fantasy of Flight and I was scheduled to pick up an important visitor on the Sun ‘n Fun ramp at 9:30am.  It was none other than Jeff Skiles, the copilot on the US Air Flight 1549 that successfully landed in the Hudson River in January of 2009.  It was billed in the media as the “Miracle on the Hudson” and all 155 people aboard survived.

We had arranged for Jeff to come over to Fantasy of Flight and speak about his experience at a special luncheon in the Orlampa Conference Center.  Since it was the day of the Splash-In, I thought it would be great to bring Jeff over in the Duck for a grand arrival on the shores of Lake Agnes.  Jeff and Sun ‘n Fun officials greeted me and, after some pictures, we both jumped in the Duck to head back to Fantasy of Flight.   Cruising over, and talking on the intercomm, I was not too surprised to learn that Jeff had never been in a Grumman Duck.  But what did surprise me was we were just about to make his first ever water landing in an airplane that could actually take-off again!

I let Jeff do the flying on the way over and he did a great job.  It’s not very easy to see out of the back (let alone the front!) and the controls are not as pilot friendly as in the front cockpit.  Anyway, after landing the Duck in the lake and getting out, I made him sign the airplane logbook stating this was his first successful landing in an airplane he didn’t have to swim away from!


Look Ma! No Steering!

We had a great Roar n’ Soar event in November with boats, model airplanes, cars, and airplanes participating.  I was supposed to fly fly five airplanes during the day beginning with a talk about each one but it was a bit on the windy side.  When I went to fly the Duck, I decided it was too windy and got caught not being about to turn it around on the runway and the above picture was the result.

Most of the side area on the Duck is behind the main wheels so it is not happy unless it’s headed into the wind.  Kind of like a weather vane.  Even though the brakes are good, when I added power, the tail came up and I found myself briefly kissing the hull on the ground!

Would you believe I was taking a bow?


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