A gorgeous Fleetwings Seabird, wearing the markings of the Volusia Flying Service in Daytona Beach, rests in the waters of Lake Eloise, Florida surrounded by onlookers. This photograph can be found right here at the Florida Air Museum at the Aerospace Center for Excellence!
This photo was taken at Cypress Gardens, where it presumably landed for passengers. Built as a Fleetwings F5 in 1939 (Specifically F502, the second one built), this aircraft was used as a factory demonstrator until around 1946-1948 when it was sold to a Long Island physician. The physician, who proved unable to fly the airplane solo, traded the airplane to Bud Oliver of Daytona Beach. Unfortunately, Bud was killed in an aircraft accident many years later, and he left the title to the Fleetwings to his son, Blake.
Following his retirement from TWA, Blake Oliver sent the Seabird to be brought back to like-new condition. Upgraded with a larger Jacobs 300hp engine, she was carefully stripped of her iconic blue and yellow paint scheme and began traveling to airshows like SUN ‘n FUN and Oshkosh, where the meticulously restored airplane was photographed and documented by the EAA’s Vintage Aircraft Association. (Source: September 1989 issue of Vintage Airplane, pg. 24-28.)
Looking up its registration information yielded some equally intriguing, if not heartbreaking information.
The aircraft changed hands in 1988, then again in 2000, but was destroyed in a tragic hangar fire in 2003. (Source: August 2004 issue of Vintage Airplane, pg. 23.)
According to the registry, it was never taken off of the books and maintains its original N19191 registration number. It was purchased last in 2012, and that’s where the trail goes cold. Instead of its originally equipped 285hp 7-cylinder Jacobs radial engine, it is stated by the registry to be powered by a Continental A/C-65, which is odd as that engine is not even a quarter of the power the type would’ve been originally left the factory with. It is currently owned by Radial Engines, Ltd. in Guthrie OK, which also owns this aircraft’s sister ship, F503, N19192. Parts from F502 and F504 have been salvaged and are being used to restore F503, one of two Seabirds still capable of airworthiness and the only production Seabird remaining. (Source: FAA Aircraft Registration Database)
I would like to imagine one day, N19191 could once more grace the skies of Florida following an extensive rebuild. With its parts being stripped for its sister ship, this is incredibly unlikely.
Ironically, like Seabird N19191, Cypress Gardens is but a shell of its grandly former self. It is interesting how things so beautiful can be forgotten so easily.
Submitted by Glenn Gallagher
Viewable by appointment with Florida Air Museum Curator