If NBAA’s vast array of aircraft at the static display isn’t enough to satisfy your aviation cravings or if the roar of a radial engine sets your pulse racing, you will be pleased to learn the Orlando area is home to one of the country’s finest collections of vintage aircraft.
A short drive away in Polk City, some 40 restored aircraft–part of the collection of more than 140 owned by former aerobatic champion pilot and oil heir Kermit Weeks–are housed at his Fantasy of Flight attraction. The aircraft are displayed in replica period hangars, where you also can experience several immersive aviation experiences, ranging from the dawn of aerial combat over the trenches of World War I to joining the crew of a B-17 bomber on a raid over Europe.
Weeks began his collection more than 25 years ago and it has been growing ever since. “In my mid-20s my main focus was flying competition aerobatics and I had a dream to own a P-51 [Mustang],” Weeks told NBAA Convention News. “I think for any pilot worth their salt, that’s high on the list, so I bought an AT-6 to basically learn to fly the way they did in World War II.” Weeks had spent six months putting the World War II trainer through its paces, when the dealer who supplied the AT-6 told him a Mustang was available. He bought it, thus forming the nucleus of his priceless aircraft collection.
“Once I had that I thought it would be cool to share it with people, so with only two collectible airplanes I began the paperwork to set up a not-for-profit charity that became the Weeks Air Museum.”
First housed in a specially built hangar at Miami’s Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport, Weeks’s collection grew at such a pace that it soon outstripped the available space. “When I finally got the building finished and open to
the public, I had more airplanes than could fit, so as the Weeks Air Museum literally was opening in Miami in 1985, I was in central Florida looking for property.” A decade later Fantasy of Flight opened just a short hop down I-4 from Walt Disney World.
The present location was chosen for three simple reasons, according to Weeks. First, it was near a heavily touristed area, which would help attract visitors. Second, it had room to accommodate a 5,000-foot runway, making it ideal for the operation of some of his larger specimens. And lastly, it had water frontage, which would allow the demonstration of seaplanes and amphibians in their natural environment.
The attraction draws about 45,000 visitors a year and, according to Weeks, attendance has increased slightly over the past year. While, for most, the aircraft are the stars of the show, Weeks believes it’s the concept of flight rather than the machines that reaches people on a deeper, more philosophical level. “There are a limited number of people who are going to fly an airplane,” he said. “But what I realized was that at some level everybody is fascinated by flight.”
Immersing people in the sights, sounds and smells of vintage aircraft is a large part of the Fantasy of Flight experience. While some air museums schedule periodic airshows, every day–weather permitting–Fantasy of Flight features a demonstration flight by the “airplane of the day,” often flown by Weeks himself. Guests can watch as legendary airplanes such as the Ford Tri-Motor or the FM-2 Wildcat soar overhead. Those wishing to become even more involved can purchase a flight in an open-cockpit barnstorming biplane or take the stick in a dual-control Stearman trainer. Guests can also enjoy a backlot tram tour and visit the facility’s repair shops to see some of the many aircraft currently undergoing meticulous restoration.
As a special inducement to visit, Fantasy of Flight is offering show attendees a discount on admission if they show a valid NBAA 2009 badge.