Page 8 - World Airshow MayJun-2018
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                                  Sun ‘n Fun Grows Up

                             I  ’ve been going to Sun ‘n Fun in   Excellence (ACE), a 14-building STEM education complex locat-
                                                                 In 2014, Sun ‘n Fun commissioned the Aerospace Center for
                                Lakeland, Florida for so many
                                                               ed on the Sun ‘n Fun Expo Campus. The ACE includes the CFAA
                                years I can’t precisely recall when
                                I first attended. For me, it’s usu-  as well as a fully-functional Boeing 727 converted to a learning
                             ally the first airshow of the new year   laboratory. That focus on STEM education has now become the
                             and is always something to look for-  overriding mission for both the Sun ‘n Fun organization and the
                             ward to. Early-to-mid April weath-  Fly-In & Expo itself.
                             er at my home in North Carolina can   Today Sun ‘n Fun provides over $2.2 million annually to sup-
                             range from quite cool to quite warm,   port ACE, and every dollar they earn from over 70 annual events
                             but making the 500 or so mile trek to   on their campus goes straight to scholarships and education pro-
                             Lakeland means a virtual guarantee of   grams. Sun ‘n Fun gives over $450,000 annually in pilot scholar-
                             warm  sunny  weather  (sometimes  it’s   ships and has helped 63 students obtain a debt-free pilot’s license
                             even downright hot).              while still in high school. They also award two full primary flight
          Sun ‘n Fun has changed a lot over the years. The first time I   training scholarships every month.
        ever went to the show in the late 1980s or early 1990s, it was little   There are over 100 A&P students in their program, and the
        more than a regional gathering of EAA homebuilders, vintage   Lakeland Aero Club is the largest high school flying club in the
        aviation enthusiasts, and warbird owners. Most of the airshow   world, boasting over 100 members and growing. These young
        performers were regional stars, versus the national names that   men and women build and fly aircraft from their own hangar
        appeared annually at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh and other big   and a grass runway that they maintain.
        shows. By the time I started going on a regular basis – probably   Sun ‘n Fun also provides college scholarships and paid intern-
        sometime in the late 1990s – the event had started to expand to a   ships that are arranged with the likes of Daher, Piper, and Air-
        more national scope and began to include many of the same big-  bus. They can introduce a path for a child to become engaged
        name airshow acts that also appear annually at AirVenture.  in aerospace at any age, and then provide the means and fulfill-
          Even as it grew, Sun ‘n Fun still operated somewhat in the   ment to both a college education and career without leaving the
        shadow of AirVenture. It was often called “Spring Training for   Lakeland airport. Their college-path aerospace courses are ac-
        Oshkosh” or even the somewhat pejorative “AirVenture’s Little   cepted by Embry-Riddle and other schools for college credit, giv-
        Brother.” The basic format of the two events was very similar after   ing ACE students a huge advantage in navigating the post-high
        all. Both were basically week-long shows with daily airshows, big   school landscape.
        exhibit buildings and outdoor areas featuring an array of General   In addition to working with their own students, ACE teaches
        Aviation products and services, educational forums, and an air-  aerospace content to teachers and provides a STEM curriculum
        field filled with homebuilt, vintage, warbird, ultralight, and aero-  for them to use in their own classrooms. ACE also hosts commu-
        batic aircraft. The comparison was inevitable.         nity programs that show special needs individuals and their care-
          In recent years, however, Sun ‘n Fun has begun to emerge from   givers how to navigate the daunting world of commercial flight.
        the shadow of AirVenture and is now establishing a true national   With both the military and the airlines facing a critical short-
        reputation all its own. Much of the credit for Sun ‘n Fun’s emer-  age of both pilots and mechanics in the years ahead, what they’re
        gence must go to the leadership of President & CEO John “Lites”   doing at Sun ‘n Fun should be used as a model for other organi-
        Leenhouts and his team.                                zations elsewhere in the United States. Sun ‘n Fun is providing a
          A former U.S. Naval aviator with over 1,600 carrier arrested   template for these other organizations to follow, and their school
        landings who flew missions in Operation Desert Storm, Leen-  and education facilities are already being duplicated in several
        houts assumed leadership of the Sun ‘n Fun organization in 2011.   cities across the U.S.
        He was only the third president in the organization’s history, fol-  In addition to its primary mission of STEM education, Sun ‘n
        lowing John Burton and Sun ‘n Fun co-founder Billy Henderson.  Fun is also expanding the envelope of what an airshow can be.
          Prior to Leenhouts arrival in Lakeland, Sun ‘n Fun had con-  As Sun ‘n Fun Director of Air Operations and Business Devel-
        tributed over $1 million to the Central Florida Aerospace Acad-  opment Greg Gibson explains in this issue with his article “Not
        emy (CFAA), an aviation-oriented high school and career acad-  Your Father’s Sun ‘n Fun”, the 2018 Fly-In and Expo launched a
        emy located on the airport grounds. Lites saw STEM education   new multimedia initiative utilizing social media and live internet
        as the ultimate mission for the Sun ‘n Fun organization and set   streaming to enhance the spectator experience during the daily
        out to grow the show to expand their ability to build something   airshows and showcase the event worldwide on the internet.
        special in Lakeland to introduce young people to the career op-  It certainly seems that Sun ‘n Fun is now all grown up and is
        portunities available in aviation.                     no one’s little brother any more.

                                          WORLD AIRSHOW NEWS   8  March/April 2018
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