Almost all of us have fantasized about being able to fly. Whether your dream is to float gently wherever the breeze takes you, soar from updraft to updraft like a majestic bald eagle or flit from one interesting place to another like a dragonfly, there are plenty of opportunities to indulge your fantasy. Turning fantasy into reality is what each of the following venues make happen in their own way. Whether it’s a one shot or a career in aviation, there’s an opportunity that will fit every budget.
Fantasy of Flight
1400 Broadway Blvd. S.E.
Polk City, FL 33868
Boasting the world’s largest private collection of vintage military and civilian aircraft, Fantasy of Flight is a treat for anyone with even a passing interest in aviation history. A walking tour of the campus half-way between Tampa and Orlando just off Interstate 4 is a pleasure that can be augmented by a recorded tour. There’s also a tram ride that takes visitors to the machine shops where airframes and engines are lovingly restored into flyable condition. However, if that’s not enough, Fantasy of Flight also offers a chance to experience flights in two vintage bi-planes. The New Standard was built to allow groups of people to take brief flights complete with scarves, goggles and helmets at a cost of $69.95 each. For those who aren’t satisfied with just going along for the ride, at $229 per passenger, flights on a Boeing PT-17 “Stearman” trainer offer a chance to actually take the controls of the plane that helped young Americans take the first steps toward becoming the flyers who swept the skies clean of the mighty German and Japanese air forces.
Aerial Adventures of Tampa
200 N. Bayshore Blvd.
Clearwater, FL 33759
One of man’s first ways of soaring like a bird was the hot air balloon. The first officially recorded balloon flights were by the Montgolfier brothers in 18th century Paris. Among the witnesses was an American scholar-diplomat, Benjamin Franklin. When someone asked “Dr.” Franklin of what use such a device was, legend has it that he responded “of what use is a baby?” Aerial Adventures of Tampa offers weekend rides starting from the north end of Dale Mabry Highway in north Tampa. Flights start in the morning between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. to take advantage of calm winds, but the early start also guarantees spectacular views as expert pilots follow wind currents at anywhere from 30 to 3,000 feet. The company makes no guarantees about where you’ll land, but they do guarantee that whereever you land there will be a chase crew waiting to pick you up. Couples get a special $425 rate.
Tampa Bay Soaring Society
40233 Sunpath Ave.
Zephyrhills, FL 33540
Hot air balloons are one mode of engineless flight, but it’s a gentle, passive experience where your course is set by the whims of the wind’s currents. The Tampa Bay Soaring Society offers you a chance to experience the closest thing most humans will ever experience to flying like an eagle: a ride in a sail plane. Located on the east side of Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, the Tampa Bay Soaring Society offers one-day memberships for a fee of $100. Of course, there is the “risk” that one flight isn’t enough. For those who get fully infected by the soaring bug, the club’s website says $50 of the first ride fee will be deducted from the annual initiation fee of $120. Discounted lifetime, student and family memberships are also available. The club is open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m.
Helicopter Tours of Tampa
Peter O. Knight Airport
825 Severn Ave.
Tampa, FL 33606
The low and slow capabilities of ballooning, combined with the ability to choose your own flight path, make helicopters an ideal sightseeing and photographic platform. Based in downtown Tampa at Peter O. Knight Airport, Helicopter Tours of Tampa offers tours starting as low as $39 with special deals available to celebrate birthdays and other occasions such as Valentine’s Day. Gift certificates are also available through the company’s website. Flights are available every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s a great way to see Tampa Bay as you’ve never seen it before.
National Aviation Academy
St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport
6225 Ulmerton Road
Clearwater, FL 33760
If just going along for a ride isn’t enough to satisfy your inner flyboy (or flygirl), why not take the next step and become a pilot? With its Tampa Bay location at the St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport on Ulmerton Road, National Aviation Academy offers everything an aspiring professional pilot needs to go from zero flying experience to the qualifications they need to go to work as a regional airline pilot. The registration fee is $150 and financial aid counseling is available to help defray the overall cost of the training. The school offers tours every day but Sunday. If being a pilot isn’t your goal, NAA also offers maintenance training that will help you become one of the people who keeps the birds flying.
Mike Hennessy is a veteran news man who has won Florida AP awards for feature reporting and covered almost every kind of story imaginable from on-the-scene coverage of Hurricane Andrew, to some of the highest profile murder and corruption trials in Florida history. Mike is versatile and has the curiosity it takes to get to the bottom line of any story. His work can be found at Examiner.com.