Johnson family's Spirit of Carnauba makes its final flight

Johnson family's Spirit of Carnauba makes its final flight
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buy this photo Johnson family's Spirit of Carnauba makes its final flight

RACINE - With four Johnson family members aboard, the Spirit of Carnauba sea plane made its last flight Monday afternoon before it becomes part of a tribute to the late Sam Johnson.

The plane's next stop and final resting place will be Fortaleza Hall, the new building under construction at the SC Johnson headquarters campus along 14th Street. The Spirit of Carnauba, a replica of an S-38 Sikorsky sea plane, will soon be dismantled, crated and taken to the SCJ campus. Then Fortaleza Hall will be built around the brightly colored aircraft which will hang inside the building.

Before the 1 p.m. flight from Batten International Airport, Johnson family members addressed an audience of about 200 employees from the four Johnson family enterprises: SCJ, JohnsonDiversey, Johnson Financial Group and Johnson Outdoors.

"The Carnauba deserves a home in a place of honor," said SCJ Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Fisk Johnson.

Fisk, his brother Curt and Sam Johnson flew to Fortaleza, Brazil, in 1998. Their trip re-created one that Fisk and Curt's grandfather, H.F. Johnson Jr., made in 1935. In that journey, he flew to Fortaleza in search of a sustainable source of the carnauba palm tree, then the indispensable ingredient in Johnson Wax.

For the 1998 flight, Sam Johnson had a replica built, to a painstaking level of detail, of the plane his father had flown. The result is a plane with twin propellers and a 72-foot wingspan.

"By putting the Carnauba in a new building, we're giving something back to Dad," Fisk told the audience.

"As you can imagine," said Sam's widow, Gene Johnson, "this is a very hard day because it closes a chapter in our family."

The preflight ceremony included a presentation of the late Sam Johnson's pilot's license to the SCJ hangar staff. The framed license will be mounted on a wall there.

At about 1 p.m. the large plane rumbled down a Batten runway into a headwind and lifted off. It circled counterclockwise and then buzzed the crowd, no more than 20 feet above the ground.

A film crew in a helicopter followed the replica Sikorsky around the area as it flew over all the significant Johnson landmarks.

Project Honor, the initiative to build Fortaleza Hall and an adjacent community center to honor Sam Johnson, went under construction last fall. It will be the first major building addition to the campus since the world-renowned Johnson Wax Administration Building, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Like that famous building, the Johnson family brought in a world-class architect, Lord Norman Foster and his London-based Foster + Partners, to help them carry out Project Honor. Fortaleza Hall will be a curved, glass-sided structure on the SCJ campus slightly southeast of the Golden Rondelle Theater on 14th Street.

Its centerpiece, the Carnauba plane, will hang beneath a skylight with the square footage of a typical new home. Visitors will be able to see the Carnauba aircraft from all levels of the building, which will also be lit at night.

The curving glass design weds Fortaleza Hall, the showier part of the project, with a 44,000-square-foot, multi-function community building that will be part SCJ campus cafeteria, fitness center, bank, company store, concierge and atrium. It is expected to open in fall 2009.

About the Spirit of Carnauba

Model: Replica Sikorsky S-38

Date of manufacture: 1998 built by Born Again Restorations (original plane was manufactured in 1930)

Construction: The hull is oak and ash frame work, covered in aluminum. The wings, tail and booms are metal covered in fabric. The interior of Carnaúba includes two wicker chairs and one three-seat divan.

Engines: Two Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr., 450-horsepower; electrical starters (the original plane's engines were 420 horsepower with inertial-type starters)

Propellers: 8 feet 9 inches in diameter, constant speed, full-feathering (the original plane's propellers were 9 feet 10 inches in diameter, adjustable pitch)

Weight empty: 7,400 pounds (original plane was 6,850 pounds)

Performance:

* Maximum speed: 125 mph

* Stall speed: 55 mph

* Normal cruise: 98 mph (original plane had a normal cruise speed of 110 mph)

Fuel capacity: 340 gallons

Seating capacity: Two crew, five passengers (original plane held 2 crew and 10 passengers)

Landing gear: Electrically or manually operated brakes, Grumman Mallard wheels and tires. Tail wheel. (Original plane's landing gear was manually operated, hydraulically retractable, optional brakes. Tail skid.)

Carnaúba Trip Data:

* Miles logged: 43,540 nautical miles (50,071 statute miles) in 622 hours

* Longest trip: 4,000 nautical miles (4,600 statute miles) flying from Racine to Fortaleza, Brazil

* Shortest trip: three nautical miles (3.5 statute miles) from Batten International Airport to North Bay.

* Highest flight above ground: 10,000 feet

* Shortest flight above ground: 10 inches

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