Located in Polk City, FL between Lakeland and Kissimmee, Fantasy of Flight is more than an aviation museum calling itself an “Aviation Attraction.” One of the first things that makes it stand out is how the facility is arranged. When you enter the museum you feel as if you are walking though the history of aviation. The first few exhibits are arranged as a walk-through diorama starting with the birth of aviation and ending with a US Army Air Corp base where you can walk through a B-17. Upon exiting the B-17 diorama you enter the main hangar holding nearly 40 vintage aircraft with a centerpiece of a rear Short Sunderland flying boat.
Fantasy of Flight not only lets you climb into a B-17 but weather permitting Kermit Weeks, owner of Fantasy of Flight, takes up one of their rare aircraft for a flight around their facility, exposing you to the sights and sounds of these rare aircraft. Additionally I highly recommend taking the extra tours where you can see the restoration, aircraft maintenance, and back lot areas. If your timing is right you may bump into Kermit Weeks giving talks or telling great stories about the aircraft in his collection.
Exhibit 1: Boeing B-17 Diorama
The last of the immersion environments that you experience before entering the main hanger is that of a Boeing B-17 having maintenance being performed. This diorama allow the guest to walk through the interior of the B-17, experience the cramped quarters, hold a 50 caliber machine gun used for protecting the aircraft in flight and see the cockpit and bomb bay. Outside of the B-17 you can see a technician working on the engine, hear the sounds of the base around you coming from outbuilding and see ground vehicles that would be used on RAF Horham, the base this winter scene depicts.
Exhibit 2: Short Sunderland Flying Boat
Physically the largest airplane of their collection is also one of the rarest, the last remaining airworthy four engine flying boat. Short Sunderland design started 1933 with the first flight taking place on October 16th 1937. The model on display at Fantasy of Flight was built in 1944 at the height of World War II. Like a true flying boat this airplane has no landing gear. It can only take off and land on water. The wheels you see on it are for moving the airplane onto land for storage or maintenance but are not suitable for landing. Currently set up for passenger service with relatively modern seating this airplane was originally built for war transport.
Note: I was lucky enough to see the Sunderland flying at EAA AirVenture 1993 when Kermit Weeks flew it to Oshkosh for temporary storage.
Fantasy of Flight is the home to three great replica Granville Brothers aircraft. Known as Gee Bee each airframe was hand built for air racing with speed in mind and of the 24 total airframes built only two originals are known to exist. The three different models on display are all flyable, Model Y, Model Z and Model R2. The Model Y is a two seat low wing that first flew in 1931. The Model Z is the yellow and black aircraft and also first flew in 1931. The R2 is the widest of the three first flew in 1932.
Hidden Gem: B-26 Marauder
There are only six of the nearly 5,300 made still in existence and this is the last remaining airworthy airframe. First flown in 1940 the B-26 gained a reputation for being an extremely demanding airplane to fly and a high rate of crashes during training led to the song “One a day in Tampa Bay.” Modified and with pilots retrained the B-26 shook this reputation and ended the war with the Army Air Corps lowest loss rate. The B-26 was used primarily in North Africa and the European theaters of operation though it was also used in the Pacific.
Author’s Note: I have to highly recommend this museum. I not only really enjoy the the immersion environments I really believe in Kermit Weeks’ mission to preserve history and mission to excite the next generation of aviation enthusiasts.
Entry fee: $28.95
Ages 6-12 $14.95
10 am – 5 pm daily