A historic re-enactment of the flight that made St. Petersburg famous in 1914 is happening on New Year's Day. Activities start New Year's Eve at 6 p.m. at the Museum of History at the base of the Pier in downtown St. Petersburg.
ST. PETERSBURG - A re-enactment of the flight that made St. Petersburg famous in 1914 using Kermit Weeks' reproduction of the first airliner, the Benoist 2014, will not happen on New Year's Day. However, activities will still commemorate the historic event.
After receiving approval from the Federal Aviation Authority to test fly the Benoist 2014 on Dec. 28, Weeks was able to power the engine and taxi the airboat on water, but unable to get it airborne despite making several adjustments to the plane.
A back-up airboat replica, the Hoffman X-4 “Mullet Skiff,” will be used to carry-out the reenactment instead. The Hoffman X-4 amphibious flying boat was built by St. Petersburg native Ed Hoffman, Sr., and previously used in the millennial reenactment in 2000 which flew Tampa Mayor Dick Greco. Eddie Hoffman, Jr. will fly the replica.
Weeks will display the Benoist 2014 on New Year’s Eve near the St. Petersburg Museum of History as part of the city’s First Night Celebration. Activities start New Year's Eve at 6 p.m. at the Museum of History at the base of the Pier in downtown St. Petersburg. The first 500 children at the history museum will get free souvenir balsa wood model planes.
A Tony Jannus impersonator will speak, at 7 p.m. At 8 p.m. Weeks, founder and owner of Fantasy of Flight creator and pilot of the Benoist Airboat replica that will fly on New Year's morning, will speak.
On New Year's Day at 9 a.m., presentations begin leading up to a historic repeat of the 1914 flight at 10 a.m. from the Bay between the Museum of History and the Vinoy, weather permitting. In 1914, half the population of St. Petersburg turned out for the event, about 2,500 people.
The flight will land about a half an hour later, 10:30 a.m., in the "Airboat Harbor" just off of Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Island in downtown Tampa, the destination of the original flight. An even larger crowd of 3,500 were there to see the original flight land on Jan. 1, 1914.
The takeoff ceremony in St. Petersburg will be next to the History Museum on the approach to the Pier, 335 2nd Ave. N. E. The landing ceremony will be in Tampa near the seaplane basin at Peter O. Knight Airport. Large screens will be erected at both sites with live video to facilitate viewing. The live feed links may be accessed at the Flight 2014 website, www.airlinecentennial.org.
Flight 2014 First Night programming
• 6 p.m. — Doors Open. New First Airline Exhibit unveiled.
• Student Aviation in Art work on display.
• Stamp Cancellation Table manned by Clearwater Stamp Club
• First Airline Auction Table
• Balsa wood model Benoist planes distributed to first 500 youth (paper model planes used when balsa wood is exhausted).
• Tony Jannus Cutout available for photos.
• 7 p.m. — Tony Jannus (Michael Norton) Tells the Story of the First Airline.
• 8 p.m. — Kermit Weeks of Fantasy of Flight Tells the Story of Building the Benoist 2014 (reproduction of the Benoist airboat to be flown in reenactment of the First Airline First Flight on January 1)
• 8:30 p.m. — Flight 2014 Auction Concluded
• Showing of Jannus Film (periodically throughout the evening)
• Benoist 2014 on display in tent next to the Museum.
• Hospitality in the Board Room (for special guests only)
About First Flight
Jan. 1, 2014 is the Centennial of the World’s First Airline. The First Airline, called the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, originated in St. Petersburg on Jan. 1, 1914. The airline flew between St. Petersburg and Tampa, a distance of 21 miles.
The airline used two bi-wing airboats. Two flights were regularly scheduled daily during the tourist season from January through March. During its brief operation the airline flew over 1,200 passengers. The airline’s chief pilot was pioneer aviator Tony Jannus.
The St. Petersburg-Tampa Airline was the model which led to today’s vast airline industry. This year’s First Night Celebration dedicated to the First Airline Centennial.
Weeks intends to continue to research the hydrodynamics of the first airliner, make necessary changes, and fly the Benoist 2014 airboat across Tampa Bay sometime later in 2014. There were no blueprints for the original airboat and the design for the reproduction had to be pieced together from bits and pieces of information. Weeks’ reproduction includes an original reverse engineered “Roberts 6” engine, something no other replication has attempted.
Will Michaels, president of the Flight 2014 Planning Board which planned the First Airline Centennial Celebrations, stated, “Kermit Weeks has made a monumental effort to complete his reproduction of the first airliner in time for the centennial anniversary on January 1st. We are most grateful for the tremendous investment he has made in commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the First Airline. We look forward to thanking him on New Year’s Day in St. Petersburg, and cheering his flight across the bay at some later date in 2014.”