While the 65th Annual NBAA Convention here in Orlando is the world’s greatest gathering of modern business aircraft, it isn’t the only great aircraft collection in the area. Drive just 15 minutes west on I-4 and you’ll find Kermit Weeks’s Fantasy of Flight, home to the “The World’s Greatest Aircraft Collection.” If you are a fan of early era through post-WWII aircraft, the museum is a not-to-be-missed destination.
First opened in 1994, Fantasy of Flight is home to more than 40 rare and exotic aircraft, including a Morane-Saulnier monoplane, a Nieuport biplane, an Avro 504, a Serversky P-35, Grumman Duck, P-51C Mustang, B-26 Marauder, Short Sunderland flying boat, Douglas B-23 Dragon, Lockheed Constellation and many more.
While getting close to the display aircraft is certainly worth the price of admission, it’s Fantasy of Flight’s unique ability to bring you behind the scenes that excites an aircraft enthusiast. Two tours of particular interest are the wood- and machine-shop tour and the restoration-shop tour.
The restoration tour takes you through the area where teams of metal craftsmen and fabricators painstakingly disassemble, refurbish, recreate, reassemble and restore these treasures of aviation history. As you would guess, the wood-shop tour concentrates on the efforts of artisans charged with rebuilding and restoring the collection’s wooden aircraft, such as the legendary Curtis JN-4 Jenny and Boeing Stearman.
No matter if it’s wood or metal, after seeing what goes on in the shops, you’ll agree it’s a real shame to have to put skins on these beautiful airplanes. But, as cool as it is, Fantasy of Flight is much more than a working museum. True to Weeks’s goal of making it “thought provoking and emotionally engaging,” the facility’s exhibitions are staged to give you a true sight-and-sound sensory experience. Probably the best example is the B-17 exhibit, where you climb aboard and join the crew as you soar above enemy targets. This experience alone will give you a true and lasting respect for those brave airmen who risked it all.
Another unique part of Fantasy of Flight is Weeks’s commitment to keeping his collection flying. Each day (weather permitting), Weeks or one of the facility’s pilots takes one of the vintage aircraft out for some exercise. Prior to the flight, the pilot will hold a brief Q&A session about the aircraft and its history. If you’re there on the right day, this can be a once-in-a- lifetime experience.
Speaking of experiences, if you’re up for some physical fun, strap on Fantasy of Fight’s new Wing WalkAir 600-foot zip line and ropes course. If you think being a barnstorming wing walker was easy, try your hands (and feet) at exercises that mimic a tightrope, balance beam or horizontal ladder while dangling four-stories above Lake Agnes.