POLK CITY (CBSMiami/AP) — A Florida man has made a replica of a seaplane flown over Tampa Bay 100 years ago and is planning to fly it during a reenactment of the nation’s first commercial flight on the centennial of the aviation milestone.
The Tampa Tribune reports that Kermit Weeks has recreated the bi-wing seaplane that pilot Tony Jannus first flew over Tampa Bay 100 years ago. Using scraps of archival data and photographs, Weeks and his crew have built nearly everything from scratch, trying to honor the original design. The aircraft’s wings are made of wood, a wooden lever moves the rudder and foot pedals operate the throttle.
“You’re hanging out there like a bird, and it’s just awesome,” Weeks said.
New Year’s Day will mark the 100th anniversary of what is considered the country’s first regularly scheduled commercial flight. In 1914, passengers paid $5 for a one-way ticket across Tampa Bay.
But Weeks must first get approval from Federal Aviation Administration officials to launch from St. Petersburg’s North Yacht Basin on Jan. 1 and retrace Jannus’ 23-minute trek with a passenger.
“Although the FAA doesn’t care if I kill myself, they do care if I kill somebody else,” said Weeks, who has invested four years of meticulous research, staff hours and his own money to construct the plane from scratch.
The idea started with an offhand comment.
When a group of aviation enthusiasts planned to build a radio-controlled model of the airboat for the centennial of the Jannus flight, Weeks suggested he create an actual replica. He recruited Ken Kellett, who built a replica of the Wright brothers’ flyer and flew it at Kitty Hawk in 1978.
The crew had no instructions or schematics to offer guidance, so they had to rely on photos and other documents. Weeks, who has built several historical replicas, has tried to reproduce the finest details, even in features that make the plane challenging to a modern pilot. The plane’s maximum speed is 64 mph.
“He wants to fly it the way it was originally done,” Kellett said.
The FAA must decide whether Weeks has logged sufficient test flight hours to safely ferry a passenger. Weather conditions New Year’s morning also will be a factor.
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