By Patricia Luebke
With “The Joy of Flight” as its theme, the 32nd Annual Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In took place from April 4-10 at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. With more than 500 exhibitors, 400 educational sessions, daily air shows and thousands of attendees, the show lives up to its slogan, “The Aviation Year Starts Here.”
What started as a small, local show grew into a regional event that has now grown into a national event. By any measure, Sun ‘n Fun has grown up to the point that it’s a major event on the calendar of anyone involved in any aspect of general aviation. Whether it’s ultralights, sport aircraft, vintage and antique aircraft, warbirds, or any of the production aircraft, including the new very light jets, you’ll find them all here.
Of course, production airplanes right up to business aircraft are on display.
One sure sign of Sun ‘n Fun’s becoming a major event is the first appearance by FAA Administrator Marion Blakey, who spoke about the success of the sport pilot initiative in her hour-long “Meet the FAA” session. During an AOPA town meeting, President Phil Boyer met with AOPA members, and Friday, April 7, was declared AOPA Day at Sun ‘n Fun. More than 3,700 AOPA members checked in at AOPA’s “Big Yellow Tent.”
Anyone who has attended air shows—especially EAA AirVenture and Sun ‘n Fun—knows there’s a moment when a particular airplane appears and all activity at the airport ceases. Conversation stops and everyone looks up. At this year’s Sun ‘n Fun, that show-stopping moment happened on Friday with the first appearance of the F-22 Raptor, the newest aircraft in the American military’s inventory. The Raptor was making its public debut at the show. According to Sun ‘n Fun Executive Director John Burton, the Raptor has flown at military installations, but Sun ‘n Fun marked its first civilian appearance.
Actually, there were two F–22s. One was piloted by Air Force Maj. Mike Shower, a 1986 graduate of local Lake Gibson High School. USAF Lt. Col. Wade Tolliver of nearby Kissimmee, Fla., piloted the other fighter jet.
The F–22 took part in a Heritage Flight. The USAF Heritage Flight program was established in 1997 in support of the Air Force’s 50th anniversary. It involves today’s state-of-the-art fighters flying in close formation with World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War vintage fighters, such as the P-51 Mustang and the F-86 Sabre.
In addition to the Raptors, daily air shows took place, along with a special Friday night air show at dusk. Among the air show performers scheduled during the week were Patty Wagstaff, Michael Mancuso, Mary Dilda, Kirby Chambliss, Lee Lauderback, Michael Goulian and others, as well as the Aeroshell Team. Sean Tucker was at the show, but didn’t perform, because of an accident the previous week during a rehearsal in Louisiana where he made the decision to bail out of his Columbia 400. A still emotional Tucker, holding pieces of the airplane and his parachute, briefed the aviation media about the incident on Thursday during the show. The airplane was destroyed, but neither Tucker nor anyone on the ground was injured.
Mooney Airplane Company unveiled its first new model in more than a decade. The Acclaim will replace the Bravo in the company’s product line. According to Mooney, the Acclaim is the fastest Mooney ever produced, cruising at 230 ktas at its service ceiling of 25,000 feet. Even at a lower cruising altitude of 10,000 feet, the company says the Acclaim will exceed 200 ktas, making it the fastest airplane in its class. Initial deliveries are expected to begin at the end of 2006.
And what better place than Sun ‘n Fun on a warm, sunny day, for the announcement Cirrus made? The Cirrus SR22 now has a production line integrated HVAC system. The popular SR series aircraft are now designed to make pilot and passengers more comfortable, with a new and improved air distribution and temperature regulation system throughout the cabin. According to Cirrus CEO Alan Klapmeier, air conditioning as an original equipment option is less expensive than as an aftermarket installation.
Sun ‘n Fun calls the show grounds its “campus,” and the campus is a big place. However, an effective network of trams can transport you around the show grounds and save you some shoe leather and energy. Different colored routes are clearly marked in the show program, and signs mark the tram stops by route color. The trams may not get you exactly where you want to go, but you’ll get close and cut down a whole lot of walking. No tickets. No fare. You just jump on at the stop. The trams are also a good way to have an overview of the entire show and get to exhibits and areas that you might otherwise have missed.
For the past several years, Sun ‘n Fun has made an effort to make the venue active all year long. The fly-in is the primary source of funding for its expanding year-round aviation education programs. These include operation of the Florida Air Museum, the state’s “Official Aviation Museum and Education Center,” which is also supported through grants from the Division of Historical Resources and Division of Cultural Affairs, Florida Department of State.
In addition, Sun ‘n Fun has initiated education programs for aviation enthusiasts of all ages—especially young people—featuring valuable hands-on learning experiences. This summer, a “Destination Aviation” camp for 11 to 15 year olds will be held. Campers will take part in building gliders and paper airplanes, scavenger hunts, scientific demonstrations, compass and map reading, flight simulators, field trips and more. Campers will also learn the basics of aviation and career opportunities, and to cap off the fun week, will experience a first flight by flying in a mini cross-country flight in a real airplane. A growing scholarship program provides financial support to ensure Sun ‘n Fun’s education programs are accessible to all.
Other year-round activities include speakers, weekends for Scout troops, teacher workshops, father and son/daughter activities, and “High Flying Holidays,” where the entire site is decorated with holiday trees and lights.
Next year’s Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In is set for April 17- 23. For a schedule of events and more information on year-round activities, visit [http://www.sun-n-fun.org].