‘Visit’ from Long-Dead Aviation Pioneer Helped Collector Acquire Historic Airplane

Rare bird a longtime quest for Fantasy of Flight’s Kermit Weeks.

Kermit Weeks

Kermit Weeks

After a series of tantalizing Facebook posts Kermit Weeks announced yesterday that he has concluded a decade-long quest. The sole remaining flyable Sikorsky S-43 flying boat (of 53 built in the 1930s) is now his. Weeks also believes that the metaphysical spirit of the airplane’s former owner, Howard Hughes, himself, helped him acquire the aircraft. He posted the story on Facebook, beginning with the warning, “For those of you who only believe in a five-sense reality, please do not proceed.”

That revelation aside, what’s particularly special about the airplane is the main reason why this example is so well preserved. It served as Howard Hughes’s personal transport, fitted with an executive cabin rivaling what you’d find in 21st century business jets. Hughes made his last flight in the Sikorsky in the late 1950s, parking it at Houston Hobby Airport under armed guard.

Hughes intended to fly the S-43 around the world in 1937 and installed auxiliary fuel tanks to do it. But World War II intervened, and he ultimately removed the massive fuel tanks and installed the posh interior, where he held business meetings even after the airplane was unofficially grounded in Houston. In its day, the big Sikorsky flying boat hosted the likes of movie star Greta Garbo.

After Hughes’s death in 1976, California entrepreneur Ronald Van Kregten bought it, and the Sikorsky would appear at Houston-area airshows until the 1990s. It was often flown by retired airline pilot Jesse Bootenhoff, who had become the airplane’s unofficial caretaker through his local airport connections (an unpaid position, though he certainly didn’t mind). The airplane, with about 1,000 hours total time, has been for sale since the passing of Van Kregten and his wife, and is valued anywhere between $5 million and $24 million as of 2009. Weeks was among several bidders, and will truck it back to his Fantasy of Flight aviation theme park in Polk City, Florida, for full restoration.

He wrote on Facebook: "There is a very interesting backstory to how all this unfolded that would push the boundaries of most people's belief systems. All I can say at this point is … 'Thanks, Howard.'" Weeks later explained that he has been exploring "other realities" for decades, and the visit from Hughes occurred at the Monroe Institute about six years ago. He posted, "This experience and many others are all in a book I'm finishing about my metaphysical experiences called "The Journey Never Ends!" Weeks also notes: "I've never done any recreational drugs in my entire life."