AirToob Lightning
Even if you have been to Florida several times, you may not have discovered a wonderful attraction called Fantasy of Flight.

This place is not a theme park and it is not the work of a corporation. It is the lifetime achievement of one extraordinary man, the billionaire aviator Kermit Weeks - a man with the spirt of the legendary Howard Hughes.

Among other things, it houses the greatest private collection of aircraft in the world, all of which are, or are in the process of being, restored to full flying condition. It includes an airfield, many hangars and workshops, and a lake from which flying boats take off and land.

We had a fascinating day there, including visits to the workshops where dedicated enthusiasts think nothing of undertaking restoration projects lasting 10 to 15 years, or even more. If you like working in wood (many of the planes have wood and fabric frames), or any kind of craft where the joy is in doing something right, then the workshop tours are a don't-miss.

One of the most beautiful aircraft ever made, the Lockheed Constellation. I once crossed the Atlantic as an unaccompanied minor in one of these - it had shiny TWA livery then!

The PBY Catalina, one of the most successful multi-role military aircraft of all time. Used extensively in WW2, it was not retired from military service until the 1980s, and is still used today all over the world for aerial firefighting.

A 1944 Short Sunderland flying boat, the last airworthy example of its kind. It is not as big as Howard Hughes' awesome Spruce Goose, but it saw considerably more service!

This is an engine that literally changed the world. It is the Rolls-Royce Merlin, a specially-supercharged V12 engine of incredible performance and reliability. Each of its 12 cylinders develops the power of an average family car. Rolls-Royce kept running it at full power until something failed, and then redesigned that failed part - a strategy that eventually allowed it to be run at full power for eight-hour bombing missions, and made it one of the most reliable aero engines in the world. The unique supercharger gave it unparalleled high-altitude performance.

Although it was used in many WW2 aircraft, including American aircraft, the most famous application of this engine was probably in the Supermarine Spitfire. Without this engine, and the bravery and skill of the pilots who flew the aircraft in which it was fitted, the world would be a very different place today.

These are two superbly restored North American Aviation P-51 Mustangs, undergoing routine maintenance. When fitted with Merlin engines (manufactured under licence in the USA), the P-51 Mustang was generally reckoned to be the finest fighter plane of WW2.

If you saw Steven Spielberg's superb film Empire of the Sun, you will remember the extraordinary scene where American planes shoot up the airfield next to the internment camp. Jim dances on the block roof, all the sounds of battle fade away, a plane passes him in slow motion, the pilot waving cheerily to him - and Jim, exalted, shouts: "P-51! Cadillac of the sky!"

The Ford Tri-Motor that many people have seen in the movie "Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom". (The blue object in the foreground, BTW, is a flying car... like most hybrids, it does neither job well. It is not good at flying, and not much good as a car, but it does work!)

A top view of a classic helicopter, the Bell 47. We saw one of these every week on our TV screens for what seemed like years, as the medevac chopper in that wonderful series M*A*S*H.

There are many ways in which Kermit Weeks uses Fantasy of Flight to pass on his passion for aviation and personal achievement. This is the hang-glider simulator which is part of the educational and entertaining children's area. It is simple (no thermals) but extraordinarily realistic and effective, as you fly it exactly as you fly a real hang-glider (I know because I snuck onto it at the very end of the day, when the last kid had gone!).

On the day we went, a cold front was going through Florida, with winds just too high to permit flying - hence no flying photographs - sorry!

If you do visit this inspiring place, be prepared to spend a long time. And if you get a chance to meet Kermit Weeks in person (we didn't, but he was around) then take full advantage! He's the guy with the pony-tail and moustache...

More details on this attraction will be found here.

[My "Florida" page]
[My "Flight Simulator" page]