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Another Roadside Attraction -
Flying Tigers Warbird Air Museum

Flying Tigers Warbird Restoration Museum
231 North Hoagland Boulevard, Kissimmee 34741
(407) 933-1942

Admission: Adults $9, seniors (60+) $8, children (6 to 12) $6, all plus tax. Children 5 and under free
Hours: Daily 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays)
Location: About half a mile south of Highway 192

That’s not a pile of junk behind that hangar. That’s history.

The dusty hangar at the end of a runway at the Kissimmee Airport is home to the very serious (and expensive!) business of restoring battered and crumpled warplanes to flying trim once again. Fortunately, owner Tom Reilly and his wife Suzzie couldn’t bear to keep this labor of love all to themselves, so they opened their treasure trove of restored planes, historical oddities and, well, junk to the general public.

You can wander through the hangar on your own, but unless you’re a real military aviation expert, it will probably make little sense to you. Far better to wait for one of the regular tours that take you around, through, and under the hodgepodge of planes and into the workshop where once proud fighting machines are being resurrected by dedicated craftsmen.

Tours last about 45 minutes but the length varies depending on the number of people and the number of questions they ask. Feel free to give your curiosity free rein. The guide will be more than happy to explain the intricacies of what goes on here. The style of these tours is wonderfully lacking in theme park polish and long on easy-going macho anecdotes about mid-air crashes and 400-degree-per-second spin ratios. These guys know what they’re talking about and obviously love what they do.

And of course there are the planes. Everything from a wood and canvas 1909 “pusher” (so called because the engine sits behind the pilot and pushes the plane through the air) to an A4 Skyhawk (made famous by the movie Top Gun) to a MiG 21 (once part of the Latvian air force and confiscated from an arms dealer). The shop is in the process of renovating not one but two B-17s as well as two Corsairs. Don’t worry, they’ll still be there when you visit. It takes about five years to restore one of these babies. There are occasional visitors, too, like the nifty little French-built Israeli fighter trainer that lost its canopy on takeoff and was in for repairs when I visited.

There are also occasional poignant reminders of what war is all about. On one visit I saw the fuselage of a World War II P-40 that had crashed into a Florida swamp on a training mission. It was discovered 40 years later, the pilot still strapped into his seat. Some 2,000 aviators lost their lives in Florida while training for World War II; in fact, Kissimmee Airport was a U.S. Army Air Corps base, maintained by a crew of German and Italian POWs.

A lot of old-timers visit here and I’m told that it’s not unusual for tears to be shed. It’s not surprising. After spending an hour or so poking your head into the cramped spaces of these old war machines, you’ll have a deeper appreciation of the special breed of men who took them aloft to fight for our freedom. If you’re really lucky, you may arrive in time to see a B-25 bomber rumble down the runway and make a flyover escorted by a Mustang fighter, just as in its heyday. If you attend the monthly, week-long vintage aircraft restoration course ($995), you’ll be treated to a spin in a B-25 on your graduation.

There is a small, rather helter-skelter, collection of military aviation memorabilia on display in the Museum’s office. A few items are for sale, as are aviation books and souvenirs.

Nearby: Green Meadows Farm, Stallion 51, Warbird Adventures.

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