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Pull the curtain

Meet the wizard of Orlampa

Aviation is full of characters—those with inspiration, creativity, courage, guts, determination, and, yes, a touch of fantasy. There are those who would place Kermit Weeks, the owner of Fantasy of Flight near Orlando, Florida, smack into those categories.

Bigger than "the Mouse"

Photography by David Tulis Kermit Weeks envisioned his Fantasy of Flight Museum as an aviation theme park, and opened it to the public in 1995. The land area he owns is much larger than that of “the mouse,” as he says. He acquired Howard Hughes’ Sikorsky S–43 with some help from its original owner. The collection of aircraft parts is mind-boggling.

Weeks is known to many as the builder of the Weeks Special, an aerobatic airplane he competed in and won 20 medals in World Aerobatic Competitions, including the United States National Aerobatic Championship. After a bequest from his grandfather, Weeks began acquiring and restoring aircraft, purchased 250 acres of land between Orlando and Tampa, and, in 1995 opened Fantasy of Flight, a museum and event complex he hoped would spark interest in aviation and be as much a vacation mecca as nearby Disney World itself. His collection of more than 160 civilian and military aircraft and collections of every type of engine, propeller, and miscellaneous aircraft part is housed in hangars spread across his property in Polk City, Florida, which he calls Orlampa. (The main complex is currently closed, but Weeks opens one hangar for visitors on an occasional basis and features about 25 different aircraft each time.) Included are some of the most notable aircraft models and aircraft parts in the world. Weeks is a self-described devotee of flight, both actual and spiritual. He communes with his “friends” (his word), many of whom are lost aviators such as Charles Lindbergh and Howard Hughes (who, in an out-of-body experience, he says, discussed and made sure Weeks acquired Hughes’ Sikorsky S–43). He closed Fantasy of Flight in 2014 because, he says, the attendance couldn’t cover the electricity bill. But he still has high hopes for his dreams. Weeks has produced more than 340 YouTube videos, has written several children’s books, and produces his own brand of rum called Naked in Jamaica. Writer and “Zen” pilot Robert DeLaurentis posed some of his own questions to Weeks, and we offer them here.
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Lots of stuff

A sampling of one hangar includes a 1937 Bücker Jungmeister, 1930 Sikorsky S–39, 1931 Curtiss-Wright Junior, 1940 B–26 Martin Marauder, and a 1943 North American B–25 Mitchell. The restaurant at his now-closed museum. Reflections in a highly polished metal wing under restoration. Propellers, engines, cowlings, parts and more parts are stacked floor to ceiling. Weeks says he keeps all of these for his private use in his own restorations.

DeLaurentis: What was your aviation inspiration?
Weeks: When I was 8 years old, I built a simple biplane out of wooden planks with some string bracing. It was inspired by a picture I saw in a book, and I even painted “Curtiss” on the top wing. The landing gear was beyond my technical capability at the time, so I put the wings on my Radio Flyer wagon and attempted to “fly” down my street.

My next major flight recollection was when I began flying control-line models during my early teens. The first magazine I ever bought was from a hobby store with a picture of an all-red RC Red Baron Fokker Triplane on the cover.

Initially, I read about the World War I aces, but eventually became fascinated with aviators like the Wright brothers, Jimmy Doolittle, Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Howard Hughes, and eventually the aces of World War II.

D: What were you put on the planet to accomplish?
W: During my early process of self-discovery, I had two parallel paths; one of physical/outer flight and one of spiritual/inner flight. Most people know me for the airplane side. In my early twenties, I was also pursuing my “inner flight” fascination, and I began to have conscious out-of-body experiences. I am here to create, deliver, and leave the Fantasy of Flight concept, which includes creating the next themed entertainment industry. Many things are currently unfolding on this planet that most people are unaware of, and there is a very bright future ahead for those who get through what is about to unfold. Time will tell!

D: What is your vision for aviation?
W: As with the future of anything, it needs to stand on what others have done in the past and then take it beyond its current level of understanding. The aviation I knew, know, and love revolves around the sport aspect of flight, where people enjoy the intrinsic value of flight. But 150 years ago, sailing ruled the world. Society used it for exploration, transportation, commerce, and warfare. Today, sailing has no purpose to society other than the intrinsic value of the experience. In some ways, I see the waning of possibilities within aviation as it becomes more and more a commodity. What’s left to do that hasn’t been done? The future of poking out into space and beyond has more allure, potential, and possibility.


The office

Weeks says an old girlfriend convinced him to create the grandeur that is his office, with gold-plated fixtures. A bed on the second floor covered in a mink bedspread. Weeks does a balancing act on the brace wire of a Waco biplane Weeks flew this 1940 Martin B–26 Marauder from MacDill Air Force Base to Orlampa in 1998.

D: If you could whisper something in a child’s ear when they first look into the sky and see an airplane, what would it be?
W: See that airplane? While it may seem far away to you right now and beyond your reach, that airplane is like a dream. When you reach for a dream that leads you beyond yourself, you, too, can one day find yourself flying beyond where you currently stand.

D: What advice would you have for a student who wants to fly?
W: The same advice I live by and ask everyone to consider: Always be true to yourself and follow the energies that lead you beyond yourself. Explore, and be open to possibilities, but then follow those energies that “feel” right to you. Listen to others, but then go within and listen to yourself. It took me a while, but I finally discovered that the energies you learn to follow are just higher aspects of yourself saying, “Come this way!”

D: How do you do aviation on such a grand scale?
W: If and when I eventually deliver my dream for Fantasy of Flight, you have only seen the tip of the iceberg. And while I closed the main facility in 2014, which was only ever designed to be my shop, I hope to realize my dream before leaving this world. Time will tell.

D: What has been your biggest aviation learning experience?
W: My biggest learning experience has been merging my two parallel paths, inner and outer flight, and then realizing what I am here to create with Fantasy of Flight. Overall, I get lots of great comments from many great Facebook and YouTube followers. Still, I get occasional comments from people who sit behind their computers and feel the need to somehow tell me how to spend my life and money. It’s a shame that some people feel the need to diminish others because of their own lack of seeing and discovering their own potential. With a future visit to Fantasy of Flight, I hope they will self-inspire themselves and then share that potential they discover within.

D: We are all searching for what’s next in our lives. What is next for you?
W: To continue following the energies that “my friends” lay before me. I have been shown a future that would boggle anyone’s mind, so just sit back and watch this all unfold! But, just in case I’m wrong, you can get my padded cell ready with a hot tub, a view, and an unlimited supply of my private label Naked in Jamaica rum.

D: If you could take any of your airplanes on a flight around the world to promote your vision for aviation and the world, which aircraft would you select, and what would you say?
W: Without question, I would take my Sikorsky S–43, once owned by Howard Hughes, who purchased it to fly around the world but didn’t get the chance. When I first saw the S–43 at Oshkosh in 1994, I made a mental note that I’d love to own it one day. As bizarre as my world must already sound, Howard came to me during one of my inner explorations. He told me he knew I was interested in the S–43 and would help me get it. Several years later, the airplane was mine! If I did a world tour in the Sikorsky S–43, it would be to promote the potential that lies within each and every one of us. My BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) for Fantasy of Flight is:

To light a spark that will spread across the world and inspire humanity to take the next step on its journey!

Robert DeLaurentis is an instrument- and multiengine-rated commercial pilot. He flew around the world in 2015 and 2020. He has written two books, Flying Thru Life and Zen Pilot. He holds a graduate degree inspiritual psychology.

Curiosities

A sip of Naked in Jamaica rum, anyone? Another hangar full of aircraft engines and other parts. Hollywood star Gloria Swanson christened this 1929 Ford 5AT Tri-Motor "The City of Philadelphia" and it was featured in the 1984 movie "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom". Weeks’ wife is the inspiration for several of the nose art paintings on some of his aircraft, like this 1945 Boeing B–17, which is part of the museum’s interactive experience; you can walk through the aircraft.

Robert DeLaurentis

Robert DeLaurentis (the Zen Pilot) is an equatorial and polar circumnavigator flying to advance world peace and STEM. He is an author, speaker, and president of the DeLaurentis Foundation www.PoleToPoleFlight.com.

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