July 25, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
John R. Leenhouts, a retired naval aviator, active general aviation pilot, and antique-aircraft owner, has been named president of Sun ’n Fun Fly-In, Inc.
Sun ‘n Fun Board Chairman William A. Eickhoff announced Leenhouts’ appointment after the board voted unanimously to approve the nomination. The organization sponsors the annual Sun ’n Fun International Fly-in and Expo in Lakeland, Fla.
Leenhouts becomes the third president in the 38-year history of the event.
“We were all very impressed with his distinguished military career, but we were also happy to learn of his involvement with various volunteer-driven organizations, as well as his enthusiastic interest in general aviation aircraft and activities,” said Eickhoff. More than 180 candidates applied for the position that became vacant when former Sun ’n Fun President John Burton became president of the Florida Air Museum. Burton’s predecessor was Billy Henderson.
Brand-new Sun ’n Fun President John R. Leenhouts said July 29 that he is excited to be given the chance to take the annual airshow in Lakeland, Fla., “to the next era.” He said he plans to make Sun ’n Fun a nationally recognized show and the “centerpiece of every aviator’s yearly schedule.”
“Every person on the planet is going to know that Sun ’n Fun exists,” he said.
The 2012 show is set for March 27 through April 1. And RV owners take note: Leenhouts, a devout taildragger pilot who owns a Stearman and a Waco, said he’s currently shopping for an RV. He said he’s tired of RV-6 and RV-8 pilots at his home airport beating him at dogfights.
Leenhouts, who owns and flies a 1941 Stearman and a 1930 Waco RNF, said that taking over as the organization’s president was “a dream come true”--and that he and his wife Nancy were eager to relocate to Lakeland and become active in the community.
Leenhouts “has been a regular and active participant at virtually every Sun ’n Fun Fly-In over the past 30 years,” said Eickhoff. AOPA will once again next year be a sponsor of Sun ’n Fun, which has been set for March 27 through April 1, 2012 in Lakeland.
"As the platinum sponsor of Sun ’n Fun for the past three years, AOPA has built an excellent relationship with the staff and volunteers at Lakeland—a relationship we’re confident will continue to strengthen and grow under John’s leadership,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller. “With his incredibly diverse aviation background, business acumen, and extensive philanthropic work, John is an outstanding choice to lead the Sun ’n Fun organization. All of us at AOPA are excited to work with him and the entire Sun ’n Fun organization in 2012 and beyond.”
A pilot with more than 10,000 hours in military and GA aircraft, Leenhouts earned his private pilot certificate in 1970, going on to become a certificated flight instructor, airline transport pilot, and acquire multi-engine and floatplane ratings.
After graduating in 1973 from Oklahoma State University with a B.S. degree in Aerospace Engineering, Leenhouts was commissioned a naval ensign in March 1974. He became a naval aviator in 1975 at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas.
Retiring in 2000 with the rank of captain, Leenhouts holds the distinction of having performed more landings on carriers than any other naval aviator in U.S. history, the announcement said.
Since his retirement, Leenhouts, who is an AOPA member, has worked for Northrop Grumman Corp. as the F/A-18 project manager in the Jacksonville, Fla. area, where he has served as chairman of the Aviation Advisory Board at Florida State College; president of the Association of Naval Aviation, Jacksonville Chapter; and on the Board of Directors of the Jacksonville Navy League, the Daniel Foundation (improving the odds for children), Hands of Jacksonville, and has served as a volunteer and fundraiser for the American Heart Association, Muscular Dystrophy Association, American Cancer Society, and the Fraternal Order of Police Association.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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