Florida Guide > Miscellaneous
Fantasy of Flight (7)
Aviation nowadays is taken for granted, most of us have, at one time or another, stepped into an aircraft, sat in a ‘comfy’ seat, watched a movie or two then stepped off at your location. All this probably without a thought for the pioneers of those early days of flight…the danger, the thrill, the romance. Well, Kermit Weeks, the owner of Fantasy of Flight, provides the opportunity to relive those heady days. This is our trip back in time.
Having been thwarted by tropical storm Ernesto last year which closed the site, this was not going to happen this time; the weather was beautiful, blue skies, slight refreshing breeze and a good forecast. Having arrived in the car park, which is easily identified by a massive Constellation airliner conveniently parked adjacent, we see two biplanes on the tarmac. Both planes are there for barnstorming pleasure flights, one is a Boeing Stearman which carries the pilot plus one passenger, who gets the opportunity to take the controls. The second is a vintage Standard, which, in addition to the pilot, has an extended front cockpit which carries up to four passengers. This is the one for me, as my two sons are just as eager to experience this thrill, so, once the pre-flight briefing is over, we don our leather helmets and goggles, greet our pilot, Waldo Wright, and sit in the front of this majestic biplane. Waldo gracefully ascends from the grassy runway (at an eerily slow 50 mph, as indicated on the airspeed indicator on the wing tip! ), we fly between 500 and 1000 feet, watching the world go by below. A word of advice, conversation is impossible as the radial engine is very noisy so sort out your hand signals before you take off! ! After 15 minutes of nostalgia, we land back at ‘base’, shake Waldos hand then wander off into the nearby entrance lobby, all three of us with wide grins on our faces.
Once inside, we walk through the immersion experience, a number of realistically recreated scenes from the early attempts at aircraft flight, the Wright brothers, WW1 where you experience trench warfare with an audio and video accompaniment of how aircraft were utilised. The next era takes you into a DC3 Dakota which, on exiting, leads you onto a mock up airfield of a US airbase where you enter a B-17 Flying Fortress and experience the tension of a WWll bombing mission.
Once you have been fully ‘immersed’ you end up in one of two enormous hangers packed full of virtually every aircraft you know, and probably some you don’t! We enjoy wandering around, and inside, aircraft such as the Short Sunderland flying boat, the Ford Trimotor and a Liberator before deciding to have lunch at the Compass Rose Diner, again tastefully recreated in yesteryear.
After a delicious lunch, we embark on the restoration shop tour which, although it doesn’t sound inspiring, is an event in itself. The knowledge and enthusiasm displayed by the guides is infectious, they guide you through each stage of restoration, from virtual unrecognisable wreck to an airworthy gleaming gem. Before we know it, the tour is concluded, one of the quickest hours I’ve ever spent.
Next up is the aerial demonstration where one of a number of aircraft is randomly chosen to be flown. My thoughts are “please let it be the P-51 Mustang”, but it’s not to be, shame, it just means I’ll have to come again.
As the L4 reconnaissance aircraft splutters into life and glides upwards, another enthusiastic commentator informs the small crowd of all those little known facts which still raise an eyebrow…very interesting. Once back on the ground, visitors are encouraged to approach the aircraft and chat with the pilot, who is more than willing to answer your questions, especially the ones from younger spectators such as “how do you become a pilot”.
All four of us were then supposed to do the tram tour but my two sons spotted the word ‘simulator’ and soon were sitting in a Corsair cockpit on a mock-up of the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier. Their power of speech was lost but I soon understood that it meant they didn’t want to do the tram tour. However, Moyra and I did, and again, it was excellent, just when you think you have seen all the aircraft, you are driven to the maintenance hangar housing more unique aircraft and helicopters, then off to the backlot where they divulge all those little known facts about turbines / engines / spare parts etc and the massive costs involved (and it’s not cheap! ).
Once back at the aircraft hangars, at the end of the tram tour, we go to pick up our two Corsair pilots, but no, they’re on mission number 6 and can’t leave now, so we leave them to it and further indulge ourselves in the numerous WWll aircraft of hangar two whilst replenishing the fluids lost on this red hot day.
Once their missions are completed, the four of us leave via the memorabilia shop where the boys buy their reminders of a fantastic day. Now I know they only wanted to do this because dad insisted…but I think they might want to do this again someday…. . of their own volition!
On the day of our visit (mid July), it was very quiet, I would estimate no more than 50 visitors which, on an attraction of this size, meant there were no queues…for anything!
Whilst the opening hours are 10am – 5pm, I would suggest setting aside the full day if you visit, as there is more than enough here to occupy you. Don’t reckon on just popping in for a couple of hours, it’s not enough time to do the place justice.
Fantasy of Flight is located just off I4 at exit # 44, driving time from the I4 / H27 area is approximately 30 minutes. The cost of entry for a family of four (3 adults and 1 child) was approximately $95 and the Standard biplane ride is approximately $65 per person for a 15 minute flight.
Dad is now a happy man, roll on next year, when I can do it all again.
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