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Vintage aircraft featured in Amelia is on display in Tampa

TAMPA — At one point, Joe Shepherd crouched on the floor of his plane operating the controls as Hilary Swank, playing pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart, taxied on a runway.

Swank told him she wanted to learn to fly, said Shepherd. But it was the 65-year-old pilot, wearing a blond wig and scarf, who doubled for her in the flight scenes of her newly released movie Amelia.

Shepherd landed his 1936 Lockheed Electra Junior in Tampa Tuesday, parking it among about 100 vintage and modern planes on display at Airportfest, part of the annual convention of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

The flying machines will be on display Thursday through Saturday at Peter O. Knight Airport, on Davis Islands.

The 70-year-old group's annual gathering, held at the Tampa Convention Center this year, expects to draw 8,000 to 10,000 members and aircraft enthusiasts, said spokesman Chris Dancy.

Shepherd's plane is not an exact match of the Lockheed Electra that Earhart used in her attempt to fly around the world in 1937. She vanished over the Pacific Ocean, and no trace of her or her airplane has ever been found.

There are only four Electras in existence, Shepherd said. His is a Junior, but most people can't tell the difference. There are fewer than a dozen of the smaller, faster Juniors still flying, he said, with four of them restored to the condition of his.

Filmmakers also dressed up Shepherd's plane to match Earhart's craft, painting it gray, removing a stripe and adding orange paint to the edges of the wings to make it easier to spot in case it went down.

He says he traded a Cessna 195 for the plane in 1988 and spent 18 years and 20,000 man-hours restoring it.

"They require a lot of attention, said Shepherd, who flew for commercial airlines 35 years and is the son of a World War II fighter pilot. "We replaced every nut, pulley, screw and wire."

The plane now has a modern radio, an improved braking system and leather instead of the standard wool interior.

Last month, Shepherd flew the plane from his home in Fayetteville, Ga., through clouds and rain with his wife and friends to New York City to see a special showing of the movie.

Airplane enthusiasts Gerry and Elaine Klauber of Lake City admired the split flaps on the Electra's wings Tuesday as it sat on the Davis Islands airfield.

"It's magnificent," Gerry Klauber said.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3431.

Joseph Shepherd of Fayetteville, Ga., says he put 18 years and 20,000 man-hours into restoring his 1936 Lockheed Electra Junior, which will be on display Thursday, Friday and Saturday during Airportfest on Davis Islands in Tampa.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Joseph Shepherd of Fayetteville, Ga., says he put 18 years and 20,000 man-hours into restoring his 1936 Lockheed Electra Junior, which will be on display Thursday, Friday and Saturday during Airportfest on Davis Islands in Tampa.

Three-day event is free

Airportfest is free and features vintage and modern aircraft 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Peter O. Knight Airport, 825 Severn Ave., Davis Islands.

Check out modern VLJs, an acronym for very light jet, a vintage 1940 WACO biplane, a hot air balloon, radio-controlled models and a water rescue demonstration each morning by the Coast Guard.

Vintage aircraft featured in Amelia is on display in Tampa 11/03/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 4, 2009 7:37am]

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