Florida Air Museum — unique aircraft in Lakeland FL
27º 58’ 56” N / 82º 01’ 41” W
Lakeland Florida, in the USA, lies in a beautiful setting in term of geology and geomorphology. It is within karst terrain where circular sinkhole lakes abound, making roads curve and wind. Quartz sand, erosion products from the Appalachian Mountains hundreds of miles to the north, form small ridges and line lake bottoms.
Its airport, for private aircraft and pilot training, is Lakeland Linder Regional Airport — home of the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In, an air fest for homebuilt and experimental aircraft. The Florida Air Museum is located here and it is quite a facility. Aviation enthusiasts who care for aircraft exhibits have a lot of energy, but perhaps there is a bit more in this museum as homebuilt as well as retired military aircraft have a place here. There are more than a dozen historic private airplanes on display, a surprisingly complete Howard Hughes exhibit (and library) and two unusual aircraft — both highly experimental military aircraft. A large model of the “Spruce Goose”* and a cutaway engine or two of the many items displayed in the Howard Hughes Exhibit.
The only example of the Lockheed XFV-1 vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that sat on its cruciform tail is in the second of two hangars. It is large and must have been all engine (the engine is not in the XFV-1) and has two counter rotating propellers. It did not have a name but was unofficially known as “Salmon” after the last name of its test pilot. Other aircraft in the same experiment were the Convair XFY Pogo and the Ryan X-13 Vertijet. It would not be until the advent of the Hawker Siddeley Kestrel (later renamed Harrier) that a fighter which could operate in he vertical would come to be.
One of the aircraft in front of the entrance is a unique type and one of only a handful left – the Convair F2Y Sea Dart. Four F2Y airplanes were built as prototypes and they share the distinction of being the only jet powered flying boat fighter aircraft which flew with one other aircraft — the RAF Saunders-Roe SR.A/1 (informally named “Squirt). All four Sea Darts exist and this is one of them. One can clearly see the retractable fuselage skis that allowed for landing and taking off from water, as well as the hull which smoothly blends into the fuselage. From the cockpit forward I cannot help but be reminded of the Nautilus as envisioned by the imaginative author Jules Verne. These aircraft, too, did not make it to regular service.
Elsewhere in the museum one can find a large scale model of a Hawker Hurricane made of metal and showing all the frames, longerons, wing ribs and spars. A Westland Lysander, Bell P-63 Kingcobra and Hawker Tempest are there as well. Many additional aircraft are exhibited to intrigue and to inform so this is well worth the small trip if one is in the Tampa-Orlando area.
The nearest commercial airports are the Tampa International and the Orlando International Airports — and a half hour drive from either airport to the museum by car can easily be done. There is a modest entry fee and complete restroom facilities at the museum. There is no café, but one can see two hangars full of aircraft and have a nice wander as hangars are separated by a two minute walk through a relaxing wetland park area.
* The “Spruce Goose” is on display at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville Oregon USA. For a description of the museum please see the post, Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum and the Tillamook Air Museum, which was published on 14 July 2009.