POLK CITY, Fla. (March 11, 2013) - Everyone likes to go behind the scenes and get a glimpse of what happens "behind the curtain"... Now, at Fantasy of Flight, the curtains have been thrown open and guests have been invited to see what was previously off limits - an additional 20,000 additional square feet filled with even more rare and vintage aircraft, aircraft parts and flight artifacts - a veritable gold mine of aviation history. This treasure trove of valuable historical nuggets is Phase II of the aptly named "Golden Hill," a nod to Silver Hill, the nickname for The Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Suitland, Md.
Phase I of Golden Hill, approximately 20,000 square feet, was built specifically for public viewing and opened in the summer of 2012 with such a tremendous guest response that Fantasy of Flight decided to open up its entire storage facility in January 2013, sprucing up its existing facility to welcome guests.
Among the residents of Golden Hill Phase II:
- Awesome Amphibians: PBY Catalina and Grumman Duck
- Carrier-based Conquerors: Fairey Swordfish and Grumman Hellcat
- The world's earliest jets: Gloster Meteor and DeHavilland Vampire
- Heroes of the Soviet: TU-2, Lavochkin La-11, and Antonov An-2
- War Changers: Mitsubishi Zero and Lockheed P-38 Lightning
- The legendary CalTech Wind Tunnel used to test innovative technology ranging from the first P-51 to the Venus Probe.
- Sikorsky S-55 Helicopter and much, much more
This restricted area is accessible only by escort. Guests are loaded aboard the vintage, open-air "Orlampa Express" trolley where they can enjoy views of the attraction, the planes on display on the tarmac and daily flights of vintage aircraft and finally, Golden Hill. The new exhibit is included in admission to Fantasy of Flight and joins other recent additions including the Wing WalkAir Ropes Course & Zip Line, and the attraction's robust calendar of special events, including the 2013 Legends & Legacies Symposium Series.
Golden Hill springs from the vision of Fantasy of Flight founder and creator, Kermit Weeks, an international aerobatics champion and aircraft designer whose mission is to inspire his visitors to pursue their dreams, whatever they may be, through the inspirational message of flight. When asked to pinpoint his favorite artifact at Golden Hill, he said, "I would have to answer that the same way I do when people ask me my favorite airplane, which is, whichever one I'm flying at the time! How can you have a favorite when they're like children - you have to love them all!"
Weeks acquired his first collectible airplane in 1979 and has been collecting ever since. He searches the globe for vintage planes as well as parts and components that might be used to bring aircraft back to original condition. For example, during World War II, the piston engines of the 1949 EKW C-36, a single-engine multi-purpose combat aircraft, were replaced by turbines when the military ran out of the original engines. Weeks has been able to locate a Hispano-Suiza 12-Y engine and radiator to restore the plane to its original WWII configuration. Some planes may not look very glamorous to display, but boast amazing stories, such as the Soviet-designed 1954 Antonov An-2, the world's biggest single-engine production biplane used to haul heavy cargo. Signage at display area, dubbed a "Golden Hill Nugget" reads, "Its stall speed is 30 mph, which means the plane will fly backwards at 5 mph with a 35 mph headwind - truly a sight to see!"
Finding, acquiring and deciding which artifacts to purchase have not always been easy, Weeks recalled. "Since I've had a fascination with airplanes, I've had the opportunity to pick and choose over the years and acquired things for reasonable prices. There have been a few that have eluded me because of price at the time. For the same amount of money I could purchase several other historic aircraft for one I might have passed on."
The aviation buff already has plans in the works for Phase III of Golden Hill.
The compelling and historically significant Fifth Annual Legends & Legacies Symposium Series brings to life the experiences of some of America's most courageous aviators through permanent and semi-permanent exhibits, real aircraft, and most importantly, their own personal stories and interactions with guests. All new programs this year take an in-depth look at World War I and the Cold War as well as saluting veterans of every era. The five remaining topics scheduled for 2013 include: "The First World War," April 6; "D-Day: Normandy & Beyond," May 3-4; "Espionage: The Cold War," Oct. 4-5 and "Veteran's Day Salute: A Celebration of Service," Nov. 9-10.
Symposium events are included in the price of Fantasy of Flight general admission and are free for annual pass holders. General admission is $29.95 for adults and over and $15.95 for children, ages 6-12, plus 7 percent sales tax. Children five and under are free with full paying adult. Group rates are available for groups of 15 or more; for more information, call 863-984-3500, ext. 220. For general information, visit www.fantasyofflight.com.
Fantasy of Flight is Central Florida's premier aviation-themed attraction showcasing vintage aircraft from the world's largest private collection; themed immersion experiences; interactive exhibits; a tram tour of aircraft maintenance areas; Restoration and Backlot tours; Fun with Flight center for families and the country's only Aerial Demonstration of the Day (weather permitting) featuring a vintage plane. General admission also includes The Tuskegee Airmen - They Dared to Fly exhibit; the multimedia tribute to the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) - A Passionate Pursuit, a walking audio tour and many special events throughout the year.
New at Fantasy of Flight this year is Wing WalkAir Ropes Course & Zip Line, a thrilling outdoor attraction featuring a 600-foot zip line suspended four stories above water and a three-level ropes course complete with 33 midair challenges to be performed while tethered to an overhead line at heights of up to 45 feet. Ideal for families, couples, student/youth groups or corporate groups seeking teambuilding opportunities, Wing WalkAir is the first attraction of its kind in Polk County, located midway between Tampa and Orlando. Admission is $25 for the zip line and ropes course or $15 for the zip line and $12 for the ropes course when purchased separately. Group rates are available. Fantasy of Flight admission is not required for entry to Wing WalkAir.
Hours are 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily. General admission is $29.95 for adults and over and $15.95 for children, ages 6-12, plus 7 percent sales tax. Annual passes are available for $69.95 for adults, $39.95 for children ages 6-12, plus 7 percent sales tax, and are good for one year from the date of purchase. Biplane rides, through Waldo Wright's Flying Service, and hot air balloon rides are available for an extra charge. For more information about Fantasy of Flight, call 863-984-3500 or visit www.fantasyofflight.com.