FL Interstate Icons AWOL... But Not For Long
Florida residents commuting along Interstate 4 between Orlando
and Tampa did a double take Wednesday... and not for the reason
they once did. Whereas the sight of a DC-3 on its nose -- complete
with a dangling paratrooper hanging out the back -- once alarmed
some residents, many are now asking where the hapless G.I. Willie
and his plane have disappeared to.
The DC-3 -- a roadside attraction for many, as well as a
billboard for Kermit Weeks's Fantasy of Flight -- is not gone
forever, but is merely being refurbished after enduring years of
Florida sun, rain, mosquitos (don't laugh... those things are huge
here!) and hurricanes.
Willie's plane will be back after the first of the year,
according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel, sporting a fresh
coat of paint... as well as a whole new attitude.
Flight attitude, that is.
"We're going to recast this in a take-off attitude," said Jess
Douthit, vice president of Fantasy of Flight. He said the plane not
only will be reoriented in a nose-up stance, but will also be
surrounded by new signs and landscaping, in keeping with a more
sophisticated future tone for FoF.
The plane's nose-down stance on the ground, as well as the
aircraft's proximity to an airport, alarmed many residents when the
plane was first displayed eight years ago. Many even called in to
the local constabulary, to report an accident.
"It's tapered off some
now, but in the first couple of years we'd get 'airplane crash on
the interstate' calls and, well, you know they have a runway right
there, so we always dispatch a trooper to check it out," said
Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Larry Coggins.
"Occasionally there's a person who still calls it in," Coggins
In keeping with Kermit Weeks's flamboyant media presence, he did
not let Willie leave the stage without ceremony. Weeks even posed
with the paratrooper -- in a flight suit, and also hanging off the
raised rear of the DC-3 -- to promote Fantasy of Flight, which
features about 40 restored aircraft, hot air balloon rides, and
While seen by many as a harmless promotional gimmick, some
aviation enthusiasts over the years have questioned the logic of
displaying an apparent airplane accident to promote a museum
"We wanted to come up with an icon that people would remember,"
said Weeks about his choice in billboards.
In any case, Weeks expects the recast DC-3 to be back in service
after the first of the year... and, yes, Willie will be back, as
well -- complete with continuing special holiday appearances
featuring Santa Claus G.I. Willie, skeleton G.I. Willie and pilgrim
What were we just saying about a more sophisticated tone?