POLK CITY, FL -- First were the barrier-breaking Tuskegee Airmen. Next came the fearless female Women Airforce Service Pilots. Now Fantasy of Flight tops off its Living History Symposium series with "Victory in the Sky," featuring rare and exciting appearances from surviving World War II American Fighter Aces. This elite group of combat pilots shot down five or more hostile aircraft in air-to-air combat in World Wars I and II, as well as Korea and Vietnam. Out of more than 40,000 fighter pilots trained during World War II, only 1,314 had the skill and bravery to become an American Fighter Ace.
On Saturday, May 2nd at noon in Fantasy of Flight's Officers' Club, several of those brave and extremely skilled combat pilots -- including Col. Robert L. Liles, Cmdr. Ben Amsden, and Lt. Col. A.T. House, among others -- will share their daring tales of aerial warfare in an up-close and personal forum with Fantasy of Flight guests as part of "Victory in the Sky." An autograph and meet and greet session will be scheduled at the conclusion of the symposium.
This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet real-life World War II heroes is included with admission to Fantasy of Flight, where immersion experiences and meticulously recreated historical exhibits take guests back in time to see, hear, and feel what it was like to fly some of America's greatest wartime airplanes. The true stories of these courageous pilots are further brought to life through permanent and semi-permanent exhibits, the world's largest private collection of rare and vintage aircraft, and tours of aircraft restoration and maintenance areas.
"These days, fighter pilot video games are a dime a dozen, but for the gentlemen who will join us May 2nd, the risk was very real and the price of losing that game was their lives," says Kermit Weeks, founder and creator of Fantasy of Flight. "The American Fighter Aces are true American heroes and defenders of our country. I hope that every family in the Central Florida area will take advantage of the opportunity to come meet these amazing pilots and hear their fascinating stories firsthand."
Col. Robert L. Liles joined the Army Air Corps in Nov. 1940 and joined the 16th Fighter Squadronof the 51st Fighter Group in May 1942. Flying his P-40 Warhawk he named "Duke" after John Wayne, Liles celebrated five confirmed aerial victories, five "probables" and two damaged Japanese aircraft while serving in World War II. He retired as a Colonel in 1970.
A 1944 graduate of the Navy Flight Training Program in Pensacola, FL, Commander BenAmsden was a part of the VF- 22, serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS Cowpens, nicknamed "The Mighty Moo." Flying an F6F Hellcat, Amsden shot down five enemy aircraft in aerial combat in little more than one year. After returning to civilian life, Amsden earned a degree in hotel management from Cornell University and worked for hotels corporations Sheraton and Holiday Inn for many years.
Also joining the symposium is Lt. Col. A.T. House, a former Marine who re-enlisted in the Army, trained as a pilot and claimed his first aerial victory in March 1942 in his P-40 he nicknamed "Poopy" while flying over the Torres Strait, north of Australia. By March 1943, House had claimed four more victories in New Guinea. After an additional tour in China, he was promoted to Lt. Col. in 1945, went back to serving in the Army, then moved to the Air Force, from which he retired in 1960.
On May 2, as well as June 20 and 21, the attraction will also feature "Open Cockpit Days" during which guests are invited to get up-close and personal with some of America's most rare vintage aircraft and can climb aboard for a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.
For more information visit www.fantasyofflight.com.