Although not quite as famous as the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI, the world’s second largest aviation expo is certainly worth attending.
From 2 to 7 April this year, the 45th annual Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In and Expo was held at Lakeland Linder International Airport, in Florida. The airport, which is located just outside the city of Lakeland, has recently been given international status and is home to the well-known ‘hurricane hunters’ of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The first Sun ‘n Fun event was organized in 1974 by the Lakeland chapter of the EAA. The event grew at a steady pace and by 1978 it was second only to the EAA’s convention in Oshkosh, in terms of size. In 2004, Sun ‘n Fun was separated from the EAA, making it an independent organization which was no longer affiliated with the EAA. That said, the two organizations continue to work together to achieve common goals, such as promoting aviation to the next generation of potential pilots. In the words of EAA CEO and chairman Jack Pelton, “Along with our EAA programmes, there are marvelous aviation educational programmes created right here by our friends at Sun ‘n Fun, the Lakeland Aero Club and the Aerospace Centre for Excellence (ace), plus those from multiple other organizations.
“All of us understand the importance of introducing these opportunities to young people. Just as each of us came to aviation via our own experiences, these activities are doing the real work of providing today’s pathways.”
He continued, “Sun ‘n Fun is one of those places where we can enjoy the legacy of the more than 100 years of flight that came before us, while also looking forward to what is next. A great part of that responsibility is ensuring that there must be a ‘next’.”
Sun ‘n Fun serves as a fundraiser for ace, its educational component. Every year, Sun ‘n Fun makes hundreds of thousands of dollars of scholarship funds available to students aiming to pursue a career in the aerospace industry.
Sights and Sounds
With this year’s theme ‘First in Fun – Fast in Flight’, Sun ‘n Fun was attended by more than 200 000 pilots and enthusiasts. More than 3 500 volunteers worked to ensure the event’s success. About forty Royal Air Force Cadets from the southeast of England joined the ranks of volunteers. This was the 25th year the cadets have served at Sun ‘n Fun.
This year also marked the 25th anniversary of Sun ‘n Fun Radio, which was originally created to keep airshow attendees with hearing impairments informed. At the time, hearing aids were not compatible with public address systems.
In terms of international visitors, more than 400 Brazilians attended Sun ‘n Fun, while about 230 and 110 people travelled from Canada and England respectively.
To those who have attended the AirVenture at Oshkosh, Sun ‘n Fun would present a familiar atmosphere, albeit on a smaller scale. About 500 exhibitors had a wide variety of aircraft and related products on display, while long lines of visiting aircraft, many with tents pitched next to them, were parked at the airport. On the opening day of the show, one of the exhibiting companies, Piper Aircraft, unveiled its VFR (Visual Flight Rules) Piper Pilot 100 and IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) Pilot 100i aircraft, specifically designed to serve as training aircraft.
More than 300 forums and workshop sessions, covering subjects such as metal fabrication, avionics installations, fabric aircraft covering and safety wiring, were presented throughout the event. Recreational pilots were able to shop at the Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) Mall at Paradise City, an area dedicated to the fun side of flight. Before and after each daily airshow, LSAs, microlights, autogyros and Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) aircraft could be seen in action at Paradise City’s small grass runway.
In addition to the numerous commercial exhibits, there were dozens of warbirds and modern military aircraft on display. For example, a B-17F of the movie Memphis Belle was on static display and available for fun flights. Other warbirds included A-1 Skyraiders, T-28 Trojans, P-51 Mustangs, a B-25 Mitchell, a P-40 Warhawk, the world’s sole surviving XP-82 Twin Mustang and an F4U Corsair, to name a few. In terms modern military aircraft, enthusiasts were able to view aircraft such as F-35 Lightning IIs, F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet fighters, a C-17 Globemaster iii transport aircraft, a KC-135 Stratotanker, as well as an MV-22 Osprey. Various helicopters, such as an AH-64 Apache and CH-47G Chinook could also be seen.
Daily airshows primarily included aerobatic aircraft, many of which have performed at AirVenture, as well as special warbird displays. Heritage flights, with formations of older and modern military aircraft were quite popular, as were displays by the F-16 Viper Demo Team. However, it was the US Navy’s Blue Angels Demonstration Squadron that dominated the show. The team’s six F/A-18 Hornets performed stunning aerobatic manoeuvres in a breath-taking display of power and precision. Supplementing the daily airshows, two-night shows were held over the course of the week. The combination of formation aerobatics, pyrotechnics and fireworks is always something to behold.
That’s All Brother
One of the Douglas C-47s on display at Sun ‘n Fun had a truly remarkable history. The aircraft, named ‘That’s All Brother’, led the main airborne invasion on D-Day, 6 June 1944, over Normandy, France, in World War ii. The aircraft forms part of the D-Day Squadron, which aims to fly eighteen DC-3s and C-47s across the North Atlantic Ocean, to participate in the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. The D-Day Squadron will be flying from the USA to England, where the aircraft will be joined by about thirty C-47s and DC-3 from other parts of the world, some as far as Russia and South Africa. After participating in the D-Day anniversary, the aircraft will fly to Germany to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift.
A South African-designed Sling TSi flew to Sun ‘n Fun all the way from the Sling Pilot Academy in California. The aircraft was flown by Co-CEO at Sling Pilot Academy Wayne Toddun and technical director at The Airplane Factory Jean d’Assonville. The Rotax 915iS-powered aircraft completed the non-stop 1 900 nm flight in 13.5 hours. The aircraft was flown at a speed of 155 kts at 17 500 ft, until bad weather forced a change of altitude. The two pilots opted to fly at low level, where the air was calmer, despite being less fuel-efficient. Nevertheless, they arrived safely at Lakeland after an impressive flight. Jean d’Assonville is no stranger to epic long-distance flights, having completed round-the-world flights in Sling aircraft.
According to Sun ‘n Fun’s newly appointed chairman of the board Harley Richards, there has been tremendous growth over the past six years. He added that there will be even more growth in the next six years. At the end of this year’s Sun ‘n Fun, a new name was unveiled for the event: Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo. According to Sun ‘n Fun President John Leenhouts, “Renaming this iconic aviation event reflects our mission to engage, educate and accelerate the next generation of aerospace professionals.”
Next year, Sun ‘n Fun will take place from 31 March to 5 April.