POLK CITY, Fla. — 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 can see what was previously off limits — an additional 20,000 square feet filled with more rare and vintage aircraft, aircraft parts and flight artifacts.
This treasure trove of historical nuggets is Phase II of “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 last summer. Fantasy of Flight officials then decided to open up the entire storage facility in January 2013.
Among the exhibits in 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 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 the admission to Fantasy of Flight and joins other recent additions, including the Wing WalkAir Ropes Course and Zip Line.
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 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 World War II 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,” he said. “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 said he already has plans in the works for Phase III of Golden Hill.
Fantasy of Flight showcases vintage aircraft from the world’s largest private collection, as well as holds themed immersion experiences; interactive exhibits; a tram tour of aircraft maintenance areas; Restoration and Backlot tours; Fun with Flight center for families and the 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 special events throughout the year.
General admission is $29.95 for adults and over and $15.95 for children, ages 6-12, plus 7 percent sales tax. Children 5 and under are free with full paying adult. Group rates are available for groups of 15 or more.
For more information: 863-984-3500 or FantasyOfFlight.com