Founder of Fantasy of Flight almost done reproducing historic plane that started commercial aviation

Plane will fly as part of celebration on Jan 1

POLK CITY, Fla. - The team building a reproduction of a historic aircraft is putting on the finishing touches ahead of the first flight a week away.

New Year's Day marks the 100th anniversary of the Benoist -- a sea plane that flew between St. Petersburg and Tampa.

Starting at five dollars each way, the plane carried one passenger at a time back and forth on the 23-minute flight.

"It literally planted a stake in the ground that created the modern airline industry," said Kermit Weeks, Founder of Fantasy of Flight in Polk City.

Weeks decided to build the plane to celebrate the 100th anniversary. On New Year's Day he plans to recreate the historic flight and fly it from St. Petersburg to Tampa.

Between the engine and the materials, Weeks spent more than 300-thousand dollars on the plane that the team built primarily off of pictures and research.

They hope to finish up building within the next day or two so they can start testing it.

"The last 10 percent of the work takes 90 percent of the time," said Andy Salter, a team member primarily responsible for the engine.

The team has been pulling 12-hour days the last few months to get where they are today.

"The last three months have been a very frantic effort to keep things moving. We are right down to the wire," Weeks said. "This thing is going to fly."

The next big hurdle is to get FAA approval. Weeks said the flight is all over water, but the FAA still needs to license the aircraft and approve the flight.

If all goes as planned the recreated flight is scheduled for 10 a.m. on January 1, as part of the centennial celebration.

The aircraft will take off in the water near the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and land near the Peter O. Knight Airport.

The flight will take about 30 minutes.

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