Sun N Fun Continues To Fly High Into Wild Blue Yonder
by James Coulter
Everyone loves a good air show like the ones performed at the annual SUN ‘n FUN International Fly-In and Expo last week in Lakeland.
However, while the demand in air travel is expected to double within the next two decades, the overall number of pilots has decreased within the past three decades, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Emery Riddle University understands that this shortage of airline pilots, especially with increased demand for air travel, is a real problem, which is why they attend events such as Sun N Fun to help encourage the next generation to become interested in aviation.
At their booth this year, they offered young children the opportunity to color pictures of aircraft, with older children being offered the opportunity to take a virtual flight through virtual reality simulators. All the while, representatives from the aviation school were on hand to discuss their education program with many prospective students.
“We work with people in aviation to try to get young people involved and interested with stem activities, not only males, but females also,” said Gretchen Partington, Director of Events. “You have to catch them at a younger age in order to catch their interest, especially with young ladies.”
Partington had been working at the university for the past 18 years, and attending Sun N Fun for the past 19 years. She loves attending the event, not only to recruit the next generation of pilots, but to also hear the experiences from the past generation.
“I love the group of general aviators, when they come together, the passion that they share for flying, the stories that they tell, and especially our alumni who have been involved in the military, the earlier wars, to come back and share their stories about training at Emery Riddle,” she said. “For us, this has been a great show for as long as we have been involved with the event. It is in our backyard, so it is hard for us to miss.”
For the past 45 years, The SUN ‘n FUN International Fly-In and Expo has been hosting a diverse selection of aircraft including planes, helicopters, balloons, and even remote drones through spectacular demonstrations and air shows.
More than 200,000 guests and 500 exhibitors attend each year to watch as planes and other aircrafts soar into the wild blue yonder with airshow performances, as well as learn more about the field of aviation through exhibits, vendors, and seminars.
Several of these seminars were hosted by Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, an 80-year-old organization that represent the interests of aircraft owners and businesses. Their seminars this year touched on such important subjects as risk management for pilots, aircraft safety, stress management within the cockpit, and airport protection and security.
“AOPA since day one in 1939 has been focused on helping pilots fly more and fly more safely, and that is what we still do today,” explained Tom Haines, AOPA Media Director. “All of our programs are designed to make pilots better and be safe and enjoy their airplanes.”
Haines has been attending Sun n Fun for as long as he has been working with AOPA within the past three decades. During that time, he has seen the annual event grow tremendously, especially with innovation within aviation and aerospace technology.
“This is a great kickoff for flying season,” he said. “Up north in particular, people are starting to shake the frost off, this is a wonderful opportunity to come down and enjoy the sunshine, get your skills up again with one of our seminars, and it is wonderful to start flying season…Lakeland is a great town. We love coming down here because they are so welcoming, and it is wonderful to come and join the community.”
The annual event serves as the largest fundraiser for SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In, a non-profit organization with the stated mission, according to their website, “to preserve and enhance the future of flight through world-class events, inspiring and educating people of all ages.”
The event allows the organization to raise more than $2 million for their aerospace education programs, with $445 thousand allocated a year in local aerospace scholarships. All of their activities engage more than 35,000 local youth annually at their facility in Lakeland, according to their press release.
“No longer simply Spring Break for Pilots, SUN ‘n FUN has evolved into a true gem of Lakeland,” wrote Carol Cali, Director of Marketing, in the press release. “Some just call it southern hospitality, but it’s obvious that those who donate their time and talents to the event truly enjoy their work experience and have fun.”