Golden Hill


Mark Hrutkay

People love to look inside things, inside a locked closet.  In the attic.  Inside a locked safe.   For fliers and aviation historians for some reason closed hangars are more interesting than open ones.  I was fortunate growing up, I had a father who liked to do the same thing.  He’d pull the hangar door open a crack and I’d shine the flashlight in to see what was there.   Most of the time he knew what was there, but he never let on.  It would have taken away the thrill of the hunt from me.

I got to repay him with some trips to the Garber Facility outside Washington DC in the late 1980s and early 1990s before he passed.  Commonly known as “Silver Hill” that was an area that you had to make reservations and go through red tape to get inside.  If you got in, you saw the treasures that were not yet on display at the Smithsonian.  Artifacts that were time capsules and you could look in their storage shops.  I was always amazed by the number of airplanes that dad had saw in his youth or worked on personally.  Once the guide asked about the only plane stored outside, only Dad answered.  It was the “Caroline”; a Convair 240 and JFK used it in his campaign for President.  Dad worked on it when he was a mechanic at Mohawk Airlines in Utica NY.  He thought it was interesting working on the plane with a Secret Service Agent watching his every move.  Dad quickly figured out that he didn’t have a clue what he was looking at.   Access to Silver Hill doesn’t really exist anymore for the general public.

Skip forward a few years to Fantasy of Flight in Polk City Florida.   There is no real need to introduce Kermit Weeks beyond saying he is the guy most of us would turn into if we could pick the right combination of numbers in the lottery.   Kermit has amassed a collection of airplanes and parts that is second to none for a single person on this planet.  He is still turning his collection and facility into a destination attraction.  Its near Disney and Universal (OK, maybe 30 miles away) but still, a lot of people come here to see what he is doing.  Kermit didn’t build tin boxes to store the flying aircraft, he actually built nice retro hangars from aviation’s golden age.  Everyday someone (usually him) flies something interesting for the crowd.  Kermit is cool and Kermit SHARES.  There are other growing private collections that are behind fences and locked doors on secret airstrips in the middle of nowhere (Texas seems to pop up a lot on this front).  Kermit lets you look at his toys.

Over the years he’d had various tram tours of his facility.  You would get loaded up on a tram and get moved around the facility, disembarking at different points to look behind the closed doors at the engine storage facility (amazing), restoration shop (equally amazing), maintenance shops, and what amounted to warehouses storing projects for future consideration.   Kermit has been buying projects for most of his adult life and he’s acquired a lot of them.   Rumors abound about what he has on his facility or at some shop in a far off land.  Does anyone know?  For that matter I doubt Kermit could tell you off the top of his head.  Somewhere on Fantasy of Flight’s computer system there has to be a master inventory list of at least the airplanes he has.   Not to mention the parts.  Not even tons of parts,  many, many tons of parts.

As you come into Fantasy of Flight, across the street are two buildings.  Very non descript and very big, an estimate would have to be at least 200’x 100′.  They were there and there was really no access to them to outsiders or the general public.  When you drive in and when you drive out, you kind of think of them.  But they were way off the road with fences around them, and I’ll be most people didn’t give them a second thought.

So in the interests of sharing, Kermit opened them up to the public.  Kermit dubbed that storage facility “Golden Hill”, either paying homage to the Smithsonian or letting them know he was one up on them.   You get into the Fantasy of Flight and then you take a tram across the street.  The facility is open in the afternoons after the flight of the day.  They drop you off.  There is one museum worker there to answer questions and you can wander and look and stare as long as you like.   At your own pace, unhurried by people who want to get back to the real world and see that darned mouse again.  The rules are simple.  Don’t touch, don’t climb, don’t get hurt.   Pictures are for non commercial use.  (BTW, when you go, follow the rules it only takes one idiot to screw it up for everyone).

What’s there?  Well I attached a few photos.  It will give you an idea and not even scratch the surface.  You need to go and look.  Not just look once, but look twice or more.

Off the top of my head there are some interesting airplanes.  He has all of his B-29 Fertile Myrtle of which the nose is restored.  There is another B-17 there.  He has another B-17 across the street.  This one has wings panels that look restored and it could well be on its way to flying with some effort.  There is a B-23 Dragon, a Lodestar, an A-24/Dauntless, a JU-52, a PBY, and so many biplanes it’s really hard to count.  There is a P-38 (needing much work), and a fairly complete looking Hellcat.  There is a KI-61 Tony; the wing is there, supposedly the fuselage is in NZ or Australia as a pattern for Mr. Yagen’s Tony.    If one Tony isn’t enough, there is another wing in a cantilever rack.  Kermit also has a Zero which is fairly complete on sawhorses.  In the rack with the Tony wing is another Zero wing with a center section attached.  There are a few double row radial engines (2800s etc), really hard to count them but two dozen would be a good estimate.  I saw at least 4 Merlins in the first hangar.  There is a Swordfish torpedo bomber too.  This paragraph is far from conclusive, there are a lot more airplanes in there.

Then you need to look at the boxes in the pallet racks.  There are crates from the Talmantz auction of many years ago, there are ones that say things like “engine parts” (wow thats a general term).  There is even one that says P-39 parts (Kermit?  Where’s the P-39?).  It’s really hard to imagine how much stuff you see every time you go through.  I went twice and saw more things on the second trip than the first.

Golden Hill?  Thanks Kermit, you are really great for letting us in.  So, if you find yourself in central Florida, drop the family off at Universal or Disney and head here.  Its way better, a lot cheaper and so much more fun than anything else you can do.  It’s well worth the trip.

I’d like to thank Kermit Weeks and Mary Deatrick for making this story happen.

You can contact me at TNMark@Me.Com.  Come see Fantasy of Flight.

Mark Hrutkay

Mark has been a member of the International Association of Aviation Photographers (ISAP) for several years and attends all their events and seminars. He has won several awards for his work and has been published in several aviation magazines, domestic and foreign. You can contact Mark Hrutkay at TNMark@Me.Com.

You may also like...