December 14, 2011
By Thomas B Haines
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds as airshow headliners for the Sun ’n Fun International Fly-In and Exhibition is not all that will be new in 2012. There will also be plenty of new dirt, gravel, and other enhancements to better manage whatever weather phenomena that may decide to descend on the Lakeland, Fla., event in 2012.
A tornado swept over the fly-in in 2011, causing significant damage to a number of airplanes and flooding parking lots and some other facilities. To better manage storm drainage, the show’s main parking lot has been raised six to eight inches and compacted. In addition, entrances to the parking lots have been compacted and improved to allow better access, according to John R. “Lites” Leenhouts, Sun ’n Fun president and CEO. The organization also has worked with local police authorities to bring traffic management under the coordination of one person, a move that will improve traffic flow regardless of the weather, said Leenhouts. In an effort to welcome a broader audience to the show, members of aviation clubs and organizations will automatically qualify for a 15-percent discount on the entrance fee.
Besides celebrating the arrival of the USAF Thunderbirds at the 2012 show, Sun ’n Fun also will be recognizing the 100th anniversary of Marine aviation with events throughout the week of March 27 to April 1.
The Lt. Dan Band with actor and musician Gary Sinise will also perform at the show.
Meanwhile, in an effort to make the Sun ’n Fun campus and the associated Florida Air Museum and aviation high school a year-round facility, the organization is inviting specialists from all parts of aviation to set up residence in the community. Sam Lyons is already on board as artist in residence. The Black Diamond Jet Team is the new resident jet demonstration team. The team will keep some aircraft at the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport and will routinely be practicing and doing performances in the area.
AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.
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