The Winter Haven Municipal Airport, otherwise known as Gilbert Field, has a rich history of flight instruction utilizing Piper J-3 Cubs. One facility in particular at the Winter Haven airfield reminds enthusiasts of those bygone days. Preston Aviation maintains a venerable 1946 Cub, and a beautiful 1941 Boeing PT-17 Kaydet trainer in U.S. Navy livery, at the field for purposes of instruction, tours and aerial photography.
During World War II the U.S. Army Air Corps, and the later U.S. Air Force, began primary flight training programs at Bartow Army Air Field and what would become Bartow Air Base. Under the arrangements, novice military aviators learned to fly mostly Cubs at Gilbert Field.
For those wishing to experience simplistic flight, an excursion in a Cub can provide a memorable experience. Powered by a 65 horsepower Continental engine, the Piper slowly cruises above rural areas and central Florida orange groves. Polk County’s many lakes add to the spectacular view.
Other than being in an airborne ultralight, glider or sailplane, an unsophisticated Piper Cub or sturdy Kaydet may come closest to communing with the birds. In fact, it is not uncommon during one’s time aloft to spot one of many buzzards sailing lazily above or below on the daytime thermals.
Through Preston Aviation it is also possible to sample open cockpit flight within the firm’s PT-17. The thrill of being airborne in a vintage, fabric-covered military trainer never wanes. It is as if one is being transported back in time to the era of barnstormers. The gentle climbs and dips of the plane riding on a carpet of air are the same as those felt by a previous generation, perhaps our greatest, of pilots. As the aeroplane pulls itself through the sky, airflow teases one’s face when it brushes past the windscreen in front of each cockpit. With power reduced for landing, a whistling sound is sometimes audible as the rigging wires slice through the atmosphere. Soon, the screech of rubber meeting the runway signals that the flight is at end. Once parked, the big propeller comes to a stop and the noise so prevalent before is replaced with an unfamiliar silence. However, the memories continue and the joy and wonders of flight remain fresh within the soul. Such is the lure of aviation.
Tim Preston, Preston Aviation’s Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), is a licensed Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) technician who holds Inspection Authorization (IA). He has more than 30 years of experience. While Tim flies and instructs, Peggy Preston handles the essential jobs of maintaining the office. She also keeps husband Tim on course.
For experience flying onto and off water in Cubs on floats, Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base is adjacent to the airport on Lake Jessie. Brown’s operates a fleet of float Cubs and has been in business for decades.
Asked about his thoughts after flight in a Brown’s Seaplane Base Cub, travel agent Doug Nickel stated, “It was more fun than flying first class on a commercial airliner!” Before his hop, Missouri resident Ken Hogan exclaimed, “Show me.” Afterward, on the ramp, he said, “It was great!”
Pilots interested in logging twin-float time and individuals merely wishing to schedule a ride through Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base may call (863) 956-2243.
Preston Aviation’s office is inside the terminal building at 2073 US Highway 92. Additional information about Preston Aviation and the Tailwheel Flight School is available by phoning (863) 956-2526.
Fantasy of Flight’s address is 1400 Broadway Boulevard Southeast. The attraction’s telephone number is (863) 984-3500.