Millions of us fly aboard airliners every day. But few people consider how we began flying. That's why Kermit Weeks and Ken Kellet are replicating the very first airliner.
"We have to make sure the airplane gets finished, gets flown, the engine works. We're tackling a lot of things right here," said Weeks, founder of the Fantasy of Flight aviation attraction in Polk City.
The plane they're building is a replica of the Benoist (pronounced ben-wha). It was named for the designer of the flying boat piloted by Tony Jannus on the world's first regularly scheduled airline flight. It happened on January 1, 1914 between St. Petersburg and Tampa.
Weeks plans to recreate the flight exactly 100 years later. But, right now, the replica he plans to fly is in pieces.
THE FLYING PUZZLE
It's Kellet's job to make the pieces and put it all together. It's like a puzzle.
"Because I don't have any information, I have to figure every single part out."
That's because the original blueprints of the plane were lost. Using historical pictures and descriptions, Kellet and other craftsmen have made the parts, including the giant, 44-foot wings that will lift the plane 15 feet or so above the water, just as Jannus flew it.
THE PRACTICE PLANE
Weeks has flown dozens of different airplanes, but admits piloting one using simulated 1914 controls will be challenging. For practice, he's flying a replica of a 1909 Herring-Curtiss Pusher, one of many unusual planes at Fantasy of Flight. It's loud, and looks like something between a motorcycle and a large kite.
He smiles and laughs as we leave the ground.
"This is basically the speed that the Benoist is going to fly, 45 to 50 miles an hour," he yells, as we level off over a Polk County lake.
It's definitely not the airliner of today, but everything starts somewhere. And Weeks and Kellet are making sure that first flight is remembered.
To learn more, go to www.fantasyofflight.com
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