Sun 'n Fun Announces New Corporate Structure


Last updated 10/2/2019 at 12:11pm

The annual SUN 'n FUN Fly-In has been an iconic mainstay in Lakeland, FL for over four decades, and in that time, millions have attended the annual gathering of aviation enthusiasts. The event is hallmarked by the arrival of thousands of aircraft to the Lakeland Linder International Airport, and the showcase of aerospace-related exhibits, flight demonstrations, military displays, forums and workshops and seminars. It is recognized as the second largest event of its kind in the world.

On Oct, 1 SUN 'n FUN underwent a corporate transformation, placing it within the overarching governance of the Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE), the 501(c)3 organization that has become a nationally recognized model for aerospace STEM learning.

"This restructuring of our organization places ACE in the right position as the leading entity," said John Leenhouts, CEO of ACE. "SUN 'n FUN will always be Spring Break for Pilots, and everything people know and love about it will remain unchanged. With the unprecedented influence ACE is having on engaging, educating, and accelerating the next generation of aerospace professionals, a reorganization was necessary. The Fly-In now is in the right position in our structure as the primary fundraiser for ACE, along with the myriad of other supporting activities held on the SUN 'n FUN Expo Campus."

"We took our existing Board from SUN 'n FUN and redistributed that membership into two separate Boards according to their interest and influence," explained Dr. Harley Richards, DDS., who will continue as Chairman of the SUN 'n FUN Fly-In Board of Directors. "Having each Board specialize in the area it is responsible for helps make us more efficient. SUN 'n FUN will continue as it always has, but now each Board can focus on specific tasks. It's a very exciting time, and we thank the thousands of our volunteers who have made this possible." Dr. Richards is an experienced pilot and owner of Florida Dental Implants and Oral Surgery in Lakeland.

In 2014, SUN 'n FUN introduced ACE, unveiling the 14-building aerospace STEM facility located on the SUN 'n FUN Expo Campus. Anchored by the Central Florida Aerospace Academy, a Polk County Public High School Career Academy, and Florida Air Museum, established as Florida's official aviation museum in 2005, ACE boasts an impressive array of STEM learning environments. Aerospace-themed summer camps and student outreach programs are presented by ACE staff to over 40,000 students annually, and educator assistance programs provide STEM-based curriculum and lesson plans for teachers at all grade levels. Hands-on learning activities are available for all ages, and even include aircraft construction and maintenance programs. There is even a fully functioning Boeing 727 on the campus that serves as a unique learning laboratory. ACE provides annually over $2 million in education support, including pilot, maintainer, and college scholarships. Up to four pilot scholarships are awarded monthly, and ACE expects to announce its 100th private pilot completion under that program this fall.

Rick Garcia, President of Gulf Coast Avionics, is the Chairman of the Board for the new ACE organization. "The Aerospace Center for Excellence is now the primary company, and we have structured it using successful models of other education-based non-profit organizations in the U.S.", he said. "We are now much better positioned to secure funding through grants and philanthropic programs than when we were only an event. This new structure has also allowed us to attract industry partners to participate on our Board to broaden our scope and influence."

Garcia reported that the ACE Board now has a member from Southwest Airlines, and that other national aerospace industry partners are also being considered, including the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

About Aerospace Center for Excellence, Inc .:

The Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE), a 501(c)(3) non-profit, has emerged as a nationally recognized leader in STEM-related and aerospace education through its various learning centers, outreach programs, summer camps and scholarships aimed at preparing students for tomorrow's aerospace challenges. Located on the SUN 'n FUN Expo Campus in Lakeland, Florida, the organization is known for its annual SUN 'n FUN Aerospace Expo fundraising event as well as the Florida Air Museum, which is Florida's Official Aviation Museum and Education Center. ACE is the world's leader in producing licensed teenage private pilots and delivers youth programs that engage over 40,000 students a year. For more information,

About SUN 'n Fun Fly-In, Inc .:

SUN 'n FUN Fly-In is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit whose mission is to preserve and enhance the future of flight through world-class events, inspiring and educating people of all ages. Year-round events, including the SUN 'n FUN Aerospace Expo, which is one of the world's largest aviation events, raise funds for the Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE). SUN 'n FUN Fly-In annually raises over $2M for ACE, enabling the delivery of STEM-related and aerospace education programs. For more information,


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