Kermit Weeks, creator and founder of Fantasy of Flight in Florida, recently received the “Bob Hoover Freedom of Flight Award” at the 7th Annual Living Legends of Aviation Awards, which is often called the Academy Awards of Aviation.
Other awards presented at the event were the “First Out of This World Landing and Take Off Award,” given to Dr. Buzz Aldrin, astronaut, moon walker, author and entrepreneur; and the “Top Aviation Inspiration and Patriotism Award,” given to Tom Cruise, an aerobatic pilot and star of “Top Gun,” among other movies.
The “Bob Hoover Freedom of Flight Award” was created to recognize extraordinary accomplishments that inspire and cause appreciation for the freedoms associated with flight. A World War II hero and aerobatics champion, Hoover served as Chuck Yeager’s backup pilot for the Bell X-1 program and the chase pilot for Yeager in a Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star during the Mach 1 flight. He is best known as the pilot who pushed the limits of the twin-piston engineered aircraft, the Aero Commander 500 Shrike Commander. Able to pour a cup of tea during a barrel roll, Hoover has been called the father of modern aerobatics and was named the third best aviator in history in the Centennial of Flight edition of “Air & Space Smithsonian.” Above all, Hoover is often called “a pilot’s pilot.”
According to Hoover, Weeks was chosen to receive the award not only because of his passion for flight, and his accomplishments as an aerobatics champion, aircraft designer and restorer, but also for his lifelong mission, through his Fantasy of Flight collection as well as his other personal and professional endeavors, to spark the imagination of every adult and child and to inspire them to pursue their own dreams, whatever they may be.
Past recipients of the award include Senator George McGovern, World War II decorated bomber pilot; Dr. Forrest Bird, inventor of the heart-lung machine; and Emily Howell-Warner, the first woman captain of a scheduled airline. During his acceptance speech, Weeks spoke of the magnitude of being included in this history-changing group of aviation industry legends.
“The word legend doesn’t even come close to describing Bob Hoover. He has been one of my personal heroes,” said Weeks. “To receive this award named for him, presented by him and to be included in such an accomplished group of past recipients, is truly one of the most rewarding moments of my life!”
Last year, Weeks was selected to join some of the greatest pilots in Florida history as a member of Florida Aviation Hall of Fame. A pilot and aircraft designer, Weeks has placed among the top three aerobatics champions in the world five times and has won more than 20 medals in World Aerobatics Championships. The aviation enthusiast began restoring and preserving antique aircraft in the 1980s and today owns more than 150 civilian and military planes, the largest private collection in the world, many of which he displays at his Polk City attraction, Fantasy of Flight.
Weeks’ philosophy for life, and business is included in his attraction’s mission statement, “Flight, more than anything on this planet, symbolizes man’s desire to go beyond himself. Let’s use it to inspire mankind…to take the next step on its journey.” Furthering that mission to inspire and educate tomorrow’s leaders, in 2009, Weeks authored his first children’s book “All of Life is a School”, which won a Bronze IPPY Award in the 13th Annual Independent Publisher Book Awards.