Lakeland may not be Tampa or Orlando – two havens for urbanites, flashy theme parks and professional sports teams – but what it lacks in size and stature it makes up for with art, charm and plenty of history. And five days a year, it’s even the host to a world-famous, highly-anticipated event that’s always internationally-attended. April in Lakeland welcomes thousands of tourists from over eighty different countries in celebration of the Sun n’ Fun Fly-In and Expo, the second largest airshow of its kind.
What began in 1974 as a modest fly-in with limited public attendance has since evolved into one of the greatest and most successful aviation events in the world. These days, Sun n’ Fun unites flying enthusiasts of all backgrounds as they flock to Lakeland for an aviation party like no other, and they enjoy hundreds of different aircraft presentations, history exhibits, and even the opportunity to purchase a private airplane or helicopter on-sight.
Sun n’ Fun’s mission is “To preserve and enhance the future of flight through world-class events, inspiring and educating people of all ages.”
Organizers keep it interesting year after year by selecting a unique theme for each annual celebration. The theme for the 2016 event, aviation in the military, was recognized with special air shows featuring the famous Breitling jet team, demonstrations of the USAF F-22 Raptor and Navy F-18 Super Hornet, as well as the US Army Golden Nights. For floor presentations, visitors had the opportunity to board transport airplanes and sit in the very same seats as the soldiers in our military, while comparing the different fighter planes and bombers used in the Air Force, Navy, Army, Marines and Coast Guard. Military veterans and those still in service worked together to teach the public not only the history of American aviation, but the importance of recognizing flight as part of the overall make up of our armed services. In gratitude of their service, military vendors at Sun n’ Fun were raising money to send World War II veterans on a trip to visit our nation’s monuments in Washington D.C. In addition to educating the public and thanking our veterans, Sun n’ Fun also achieves its goal of boosting the local economy.
“We’ve been here from the very beginning in 1974 and every year popularity grows. We’re so grateful for the opportunity to come out,” says a representative of The David Clark Company, vendors of communication headsets for loud-noise environments.
They’re one of countless vendors who look to Sun n’ Fun as a reliable and attractive venue for the sale of all kinds of aviation-related items and services, which proves to big city counterparts that Lakeland can also attract dollars and distributors to the I-4 corridor. In fact, since its inception, the annual six-day event has been recorded to have had a $64,000,000 direct and indirect economic impact on Central Florida and organizers say they’re just getting started.
“Next year, we hope to bring down the price even further and add even more presentations,” says event coordinator Jeff Schwartz. This year’s Sun n’ Fun broke its record for attendance and Schwartz says he’s dedicated to ensuring that growth pattern continues. Believe or not, planning next year’s event (scheduled for April 4-9, 2017) has already begun and Jeff and his team are committed to securing Lakeland’s spot as a world-renowned aviation destination.
To learn more about Sun n’ Fun and its local contributions, visit Sun-n-Fun.org.