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S.C. Johnson Dedicates New Building to House Sikorsky S-38 Replica

With the unique Frank Lloyd Wright Research Tower (constructed in 1950) and headquarters building (constructed 1939) in the background, the curved glass facade of the new Fortaleza Hall serves as the final display location for the Sikorsky S-38 replica commissioned by the late Sam Johnson. Courtesy S.C. Johnson

S-38 replica
The S-38 replica soars over the terrazzo and wood floor of the hall.
Courtesy S.C. Johnson

S-38 display
Caption: The curved terrace behind the S-38 echoes the soaring lines of the atrium where the S-38 is displayed. Tours for the general public are available.
Courtesy S.C. Johnson

Many members will recall the amazing Sikorsky S-38 replicas built by the late Buzz Kaplan. Kaplan and fellow EAA President’s council member Sam Johnson, who was chairman of S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. It was Sam’s wish to recreate the pioneering flight taken in 1935 by his father, H.F. Johnson, Jr., in a Sikorsky S-38. When Sam was a boy and his father wrote a book about the journey, H.F. dedicated the journal: “To Sammy, I hope you make this trip sometime.” By the 1990s, Sam had decided that “sometime” was now.

Sam figured that since there were no S-38’s known to exist, he’d have to make the journey with a modern airplane such as Kaplan’s Cessna Caravan on amphibious floats.

Kaplan told Johnson that it just wasn’t right to make the trip in anything but an S-38, and that he could make it possible by having his company, Born Again Restorations, build an exact replica of the S-38. So began one of the great partnerships in aviation. Kaplan went on to build the replica of the Sikorsky S-38, an innovative aircraft uniquely suited to the 1935 mission H.F. Johnson had in mind; he was going to fly a 15,000-mile round trip from Wisconsin to the Amazon jungle to seek out the Carnauba palm, and scout out suitable areas for harvesting and cultivation of the plant that was so critical to Johnson’s wax-based business.

In fact, Kaplan built two of the “amphibians” (as dubbed by Igor Sikorsky). He completed the first one in 1998, complete in every detail including the hand-lettered name “Carnauba” on the nose.

Together with his sons, Curt and Fisk, Sam Johnson set out on the adventure of a lifetime, retracing his late father’s flight and reconnecting with him in ways that bridged all three generations.

Sam Johnson passed away in 2004, and since that time, the family business, now chaired by Sam’s son, Fisk, has planned on how best to honor his legacy. This week the company dedicated Fortaleza Hall, a sinuous curving glass building that displays the S-38 replica soaring over a multitextured wooden floor mosaic of the Americas. The spectacular glass, aluminum and white background walls are punctuated by the brightly colored “Spirit of Carnauba” hanging in the center of the glass enclosure.

The building, designed by Fosters + Partners of London, is built with two main sections; Fortaleza Hall, which provides historical context for the company and the advances that continue to take place through displays and memorabilia. The display of the S-38 is enhanced by the addition of the sounds of it in flight, as well as soundscapes of the Amazon jungle environment. It also contains the Frank Lloyd Wright Library and Legacy Gallery (two of the buildings on the company campus were designed by Wright, as was the former family home, Wingspread); and a second part, The Commons, which offers employee services like dining, concierge services, a company store, bank, and fitness center. The exhibit will be open for tours on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the year.

  • Fridays, beginning Feb. 12 – April 30: 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
  • Fridays, May 7 – Oct. 29: 9:30 a.m., 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Fridays, Nov. 5 – March 25, 2011: 9:30 a.m., 1:45 p.m. and 2 p.m.
  • Saturdays, beginning Feb. 13 – May 1: 11 a.m., 1 p.m.
  • Saturdays, May 8 – Oct. 30: 10 a.m., and 1:15 p.m.

Tours are free of charge. Visitors are also welcome to tour the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings on campus on Fridays. Reservations for tours are required.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Library and Reading Room will also be available to visitors 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with reservations based upon availability. To make a reservation, call 262-260-2154 or e-mail Rondelle@scj.com

For more on Fortaleza Hall and the display of the S-38, click here.

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