SUN 'n FUN Fly-In & EXPO to Welcome 200,000 Visitors
Air Show and More April 2-7
Last updated 4/5/2019 at 9:54am
John "Lites" Leenhouts loves all things aviation and his enthusiasm is contagious. He's getting ready for the biggest week of his year April 2-7 when he welcomes about 200,000 people to the 45th annual SUN 'n FUN International Fly-in and Expo.
The retired Naval aviator is finishing his eighth year as president and CEO of the Fly-in and the Aerospace Center for Excellence. His office in Hangar A at the Linder International Airport southwest of Lakeland is filled with photos, airplane models and other flight-related memorabilia. With approximately 2,200 acres, the airport has plenty of room to accommodate the large crowds, including campers, vendors and pilots flying in to participate or just enjoy the show.
The Fly-in and Expo is the second largest event of its kind in the world and draws visitors from at least 80 countries. It's estimated the visiting aviation enthusiasts contribute about $64 million to the Central Florida economy. It takes approximately 3,500 volunteers to make the event happen.
The U.S. Navy Blue Angels are popular with their dramatic rolls and precision flight demonstrations; squadrons of F/A-18 Hornets sometimes fly within 18 inches of each other and reach speeds of up to 700 miles per hour. The Blue Angels will arrive about noon on Thursday, April 4 and participate in shows starting at 2 p.m. that day and between 1:30 and 5:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, April 5-7.
Other crowd pleasers include the Phillips 66 Aerostars, GEICO Skytypers and Aershell Acrobatic Teams along with daring aerial artists like Patty Wagstaff, Greg Koontz and Michael Goulian. The list of Air Show performers is available at https://www.flysnf.org/sun-n-fun-intl-fly-expo/activities/airshow/
Between 10:30 a.m. and noon each day manufacturers and individual owners can show off their airplanes during a fly-by.
SUN 'n FUN is much more than an air show. It includes aerospace related exhibits, more than 300 educational forums, aircraft static displays, a veterans plaza, women in aviation arenas and professional gatherings of aviation and economic development groups. Light Sport aircraft fly above parking areas and many performers are seen on the grounds with vendors and students. Youth activities include a new young pilot campground. A hot air balloon launch is scheduled for between 6:30 and 8 a.m. Saturday, April 6, most likely about 7 a.m. depending upon he weather.
Eric Farewell of the Aviator PPG paramotor group from Lake Wales is part of the Paradigm Aerobatic Team, made up of pilots from the United States, Spain and France. Their ultralight paramotors allow them to create an engaging performance reminiscent of an aerial three-ring circus as the six pilots showcase the incredible maneuverability, precision, and performance of this relatively modern method of flight. They will be part of the Wednesday and Saturday evening shows, beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Both Wednesday and Saturday evenings include a drone night show, with 60 specialized aerial robots lifting off together and producing a dazzling, multicolored light display set to music, dubbed the "Star Dance Spectacular." The Saturday evening show also will include a fireworks display.
"Drones are the latest in aviation technology, and it's exciting to have a display like this to showcase just one of the incredible uses for them," said SUN 'n FUN Airshow Director Greg Gibson. "A drone light show has been on the top of our request list from the fans, and we are proud to bring this cutting-edge demonstration to our audiences."
Parking lot gates open at 7 a.m. each day and ticket sales begin at 8 a.m. Most indoor and outdoor exhibits open at 9 a.m.
General admission is $39 per day for adults, $18 for youth ages 7-17 and free for those six and under. The full weekly rate is $150 for adults and $60 for youth ages 7-17 with those six and under free. Florida residents who purchase a Saturday admission ticket can come back Sunday for Free. Adult Florida residents attending just Sunday pay $30, and youth ages 7-17 pay just $10.
In addition to regular admission, attendees can pay an extra $20 per day for the preferred seating area, located in front of the SUN 'n FUN Announcer's Stand. That area is front row, center and has access to bathrooms, shade tent, bag storage and complimentary water during the airshow. Each airshow performer comes by after their performance on a convertible to wave and say "hi!" Amateur photographers for an extra $30 can get preferred seating on the flightline near the regular preferred seating area, where they also will have access to bathrooms, shade tent, bag storage and complimentary water. Other VIP packages and parking rates are described online at https://www.flysnf.org/sun-n-fun-intl-fly-expo/admission-rates/
SUN 'n FUN was created in 1974 by a small group of dedicated aviation enthusiasts. The annual event is estimated to have a $64 million direct and indirect economic impact on the I-4 corridor in Central Florida. Visitors come from over 80 countries.
SUN 'n Fun will host several special events during the week. A 45th Birthday Bash on Thursday, April 4 raises funds for annual scholarships for students pursuing aerospace and aviation careers. For more information, see story at https://www.lakewalesnews.net/story/2019/03/27/entertainment/sun-n-fun-45th-birthday-bash-april-4/346.html
Leenhouts is especially proud that SUN 'n FUN is not just a show, but an organization with a mission. It makes more than $430,000 of scholarship funds available annually to students in Polk County entering an Aerospace Industry career to cover the cost of flight lessons and/or college tuition for 4 years. A 45th Birthday Bash fundraising event is scheduled for Thursday evening.
An estimated $2.1m is invested by SUN 'n FUN to augment public education programs in Polk County annually. More than 3,000 area students have taken field trips there. The SUN 'n FUN Expo Campus is busy throughout the year with many public and private events in the facilities on nearly 200 acres.
The Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE Educational Facilities) has introduced Aerospace Discovery at the Florida Air Museum in a dynamic fashion as it incorporates aviation history into hands-on interactive learning stations for students of all ages.
A wealth of additional information is available at https://www.flysnf.org/