Bill Williamson was at home in Lakeland, Fla., on the afternoon of March 31, 2011, when the phone rang. It was a friend calling to tell him that his airplane, a Thorp S-18 that was parked at Lakeland-Linder Regional Airport as part of the SUN ’n FUN Fly-In, was one of the casualties of the tornado that tore through the grounds.
The call surprised Williamson, who lives just two miles from the airport. “At my home the wind was blowing, but not that bad,” he recalls.
After a moment of shock, Williamson and his son rushed to the airport to see the damage.
“I’d been told that my airplane was upside down and destroyed, but when we got there we saw that it wasn’t my airplane, it was a sister ship to my airplane,” he said. “My airplane had been pulled up by the stakes and another airplane had gone through it, slicing off its tail.”
Williams’ airplane, along with the dozens more that were damaged, were moved off the grass and into a central location cordoned off with perimeter tape.
Although he felt bad for the other owners whose airplanes were reduced to scrap and parts, Williams was glad his Thorp was salvageable.
“It wasn’t totaled, but everything from the registration number back had to be rebuilt — the horizontal stabilizer, the vertical fun, the rudder, everything,” he said.
Williams decided he should share this slice of the airplane’s history with the public, so with the permission of the cartoonist who created the “I survived the SUN ’n FUN tornado” cartoon, he added the image to the tail.
“Both me and the airplane are survivors,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine life without it!”
Williams built the airplane and has been flying it since 1994. You can find him and the black-and-white two-place design at SUN ’n FUN and AirVenture. You may also find him at a Young Eagles rally. As of July, he had flown more than 1,200 youngsters, something he proudly noted on a propeller mounted placard.