Last spring thousands of aviation enthusiasts and hundreds of companies flocked to the grounds of Sun ’n Fun to take part in one of general aviation’s biggest annual events. One such company was Lockwood Aircraft Corp., a venture centered upon the one-of-a-kind homebuilt aircraft known as the AirCam and the tight-knit community of aviators who fly it.
The company set up shop at the show with four of the twin-engine fliers on display, most of which were supplied by AirCam owners who built the airplanes themselves. The aircraft were tied down and secured beneath the AirCam tent when ominous clouds began to coalesce over Lakeland, followed by a Level 1 tornado that ripped through the fly-in grounds. The storm lasted only a matter of minutes and luckily caused no serious injuries, but nonetheless left vast devastation in its wake.
All in all, more than 60 aircraft were damaged because of the tornado, many of them irreparably so. The AirCam community was among those hardest hit, finding wreckage of its exhibition as far as five displays away, and all four of its aircraft were severely damaged. After surveying the devastation, the group, like so many others, quickly began the heartbreaking work of removing the wreckage. Bringing the destroyed aircraft back to life, however, was a much larger task.
Of the four damaged AirCams, three required an entirely new kit, no small undertaking with 1,100 man-hours required to put together the 22,500 pieces that go into each aircraft. The AirCam demo, while the least damaged aircraft on display, still needed new wings, forcing the company to borrow another airplane in the interim so that introductory rides could continue.
The company’s founder, Phil Lockwood, and president, George Weber, pitched in much of the restoration work themselves, putting in their own time to replace the demo’s wings and to oversee the quick repair of the remaining aircraft. With their effort and the time put in by AirCam factory workers, the homebuilt aircraft that were piled into one large heap of wreckage just one year ago have now been fully restored and are back in the air.
As companies and aviation geeks alike prepare to descend upon Lakeland once again, Weber didn’t hesitate to affirm AirCam’s continued presence at the event.
He says visitors can find his company and its unique aircraft in the same exhibition spot as last year, in fact, despite the unfortunate circumstances of 2011.