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January 1 Marks Centennial Of Commercial Flight

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Image: Kermit Weeks

Image: Kermit Weeks

Despite efforts, Kermit Weeks won't be re-creating the historic first commercial airline flight on New Year's Day in an authentic version of the Benoist Airboat, but the city of St. Petersburg, Fla., will nonetheless celebrate the centennial of the event. "We've been crossing our fingers for the last several days, just hoping that this will come off with Kermit flying the reproduction," Will Michaels, president of Flight 2014 Inc., the nonprofit organizing the anniversary, told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday. "Obviously, a lot of emotion has gone into this." Weeks, founder of Fantasy of Flight, an aviation attraction near Lakeland, had been working for more than two years to build and fly an authentic version of the Benoist seaplane for the anniversary. He said he still plans to fly the aircraft sometime in 2014.

The city will celebrate the historic event during First Night, First Flight festivities on Tuesday. At the St. Petersburg Museum of History, an actor will portray Tony Jannus, who flew the original Benoist seaplane on a daily schedule between St. Petersburg and Tampa a century ago. Kermit Weeks will display the Benoist 2014 near the museum and will give a talk about his efforts to build it and the challenges he faced. “We’ve been overcoming problem after problem for the past couple weeks, but ultimately we ran out of time and I had to pull the plug,” Weeks said on Monday. “Trust me, it’s not because we didn’t try.” On New Year's Day, Weeks will power up the seaplane and taxi it near the shore. Another aircraft, the Hoffman X-4 “Mullet Skiff,” built in 1980 -- similar to Jannus's airplane, but not an exact replica -- will fly the historic route. The event will be live-streamed on the organization's website.

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