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!


I recently added a new character to the list of real airplanes kids can see when they visit Fantasy of Flight.  It’s a replica of the Benny Howard airplane “IKE” featured in my illustrated children’s book, “All of Life is a School.” I acquired it from Kim Kovach who faithfully built it up to original standards after having the opportunity to measure the real one, which still exists.

One deviation from the original is that it’s powered by a 4-cylinder Menasco engine instead of the very rare, and impossible to find, 6-cylinder version used on the original.  The only other modification was to continue the width of the fuselage at the instrument panel (18″) back to the seat back.  The original airplane was actually 15″ at the shoulders!  I went up to see if I could even fit in it before I purchased it and just barely fit!

“Benny” is safely stored in a hangar in Michigan with plans are to truck it down and put it on display sometime this June!  This will bring the number of on-site characters from the book to seven out of ten.  Had I known I would be collecting them all in the long run, I would not have written so many into the book!


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?


Duck on Target

We had a successful 1st Annual Last Big Splash last September with about 35 seaplanes in attendance.  Many showed up the evening before for a BBQ on the shores of Lake Agnes.  Later we watched a WWII film  called “Coastal Command” about Sunderlands on a big screen hung on the side of our Sunderland down by the lake.  It was a “big” hit!

The next day we had a number of seaplanes enter the competition and I faired pretty well with the Grumman Duck.  The Duck is almost impossible to see out of because of the big engine and lower wings and I totally lucked out in the spot-landing competition.  Having no idea where the two spot landing buoys were I just lined up, cut the power, and floated as long as I could.  If you land before the buoy line you are disqualified, which I was not.  As you can see by the above picture I was darned close!  I touched down just after the two buoys marking the target line, one of which is behind the tail spray!  A Husky on floats (with great visibility by the way) beat me.

Luck was not with me during the bomb drop contest and, mainly because of the visibility, I failed miserably.  The “bombs” (melons) did luckily land in the lake!  But in the short take-off competition I surprised myself and my competitor by getting off the water first and beating out a 450hp Dehavilland Beaver on floats!  In retrospect, had I created a category for seaplanes over 1000 hp, I could have won everything in my class!


We got the chance to host the World Paintball Championships last fall and it was a great success!  They had been holding their event and the Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World but decided Fantasy of Flight was a better venue!  We are about to sign a 3-year contract with them to continue.  What a coup!

Our good friend, icon, and supporter, G. Willie, got in on the action to try his hand at the sport but didn’t fair so well with the more seasoned veterans.  All in all, it was fun to watch and we look forward to seeing them back in the future.


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