CLEARWATER — A reproduction of the airplane that became the first commercial airliner will not be ready for its planned flight across Tampa Bay on New Year’s Day.
The Benoist 2014 reproduction, created by Kermit Weeks, was to follow the same flight path taken by Tony Jannus on Jan. 1, 1914, to mark the centennial of the event, a celebration that’s been in the works for two years. Weeks was able to power the engine and taxi the airboat on water during his test flight Saturday, but could not get the craft airborne despite making several adjustments.
Instead, a similar airboat replica, the Hoffman X-4 “Mullet Skiff,” will fly in its place. The airboat, built by St. Petersburg native Ed Hoffman Sr., was used in a millennial reenactment in 2000 with Tampa Mayor Dick Greco in tow. Hoffman’s son, Eddie Hoffman Jr., will pilot the aircraft.
Though his plane won’t be airborne, Weeks will display the Benoist 2014 Tuesday at the St. Petersburg Museum of History as part of the First Night Celebration. He will speak about his two-year effort at the museum at 8 p.m. On New Year’s Day, Weeks will taxi the Benoist 2014 in the Vinoy Yacht Basin, and the reenactment ceremonies will begin at 9 a.m. in both St. Petersburg and Tampa. The Mullet Skiff will take off after a ceremony near the History Museum on the approach to the Pier, 335 2nd Ave. N.E., and will land in Tampa at the seaplane basin at Peter O. Knight Airport. Large screens at both sites will show live video of the flight, which will also be broadcast on the Flight 2014 website at www.airlinecentennial.org.
“It’s a little disappointing the plane won’t be ready, but it’s kind of like when a Christmas present arrives late in the mail,” said Will Michaels, president of the Flight 2014 board that planned the First Airline Centennial Celebrations. “The excitement is still there ... and that plane will fly across Tampa Bay in 2014.”