Hard work and good grades bring many rewards. For Joshua Gutierrez, a student at the Central Florida Aerospace Academy, the rewards include a college scholarship to study aeronautical engineering, and, on March 26, a ride in a vintage warbird.
“I’m awestruck,” Gutierrez said on the ramp at Sun ’n Fun—just after climbing out of a T-6 Texan flown by Bill Doty. “It’s an amazing plane to fly in. I can’t say how thankful I am to have this opportunity.”
Dozens of classmates flanked the taxiway as Gutierrez rode by for a ride into history—a history he appreciates as an aspiring aeronautical engineer headed to the Georgia Institute of Technology.
While Sun ’n Fun is widely known as “spring break for pilots,” President and CEO John R. “Lites” Leenhouts said preparing the next generation of aviators and engineers is at the core of the popular airshow’s reason for being.
“Just remember that the only reason that Sun ’n Fun exists, when the day is done, is to take and write a check to the Central Florida Aerospace Academy and to the Florida Air Museum,” Leenhouts said. Proceeds from the show—expected to draw more than 200,000 visitors—fund the high school aeronautical program, summer camps, and other activities.
Leenhouts, in his first year as leader of the long-running show, has invited students from the local high school program to shadow Sun ’n Fun leaders, learning the airshow business—and much about aviation in general—from the ground up.
Joshua Gutierrez was treated to a ride in a vintage T-6 Texan flown by Bill Doty, left, on March 26, thanks to his earning top grades at the Central Florida Aerospace Academy, a high school program supported by Sun 'n Fun.
“He’s made an effort to include our students,” said Central Florida Aerospace Academy science teacher Lori Bradner. “That is the future of Sun ’n Fun. That gives us our sustained leadership for years to come.”
Bradner is the commander of a newly formed Civil Air Patrol unit at the high school, which will launch this year following a year and a half of planning. Student members, joined by Air Force Junior ROTC cadets, saluted Gutierrez as he passed by, “giving Josh a proper sendoff,” Bradner said.
Leenhouts said the renewed emphasis on hospitality and a visitor-friendly experience extends to younger children, also, with family-friendly activities, food options, and new seating areas established to help families with small children find an easy pace to their visit. All of that, he said, is done with an eye on the future.
Gutierrez was enthralled by the past, describing his experience in the Texan as a link to history.
“I feel like I’m back in World War II, I feel like I’m training,” Gutierrez said.
Joshua Gutierrez was treated to a ride in a vintage T-6 Texan March 26, thanks to his earning top grades at the Central Florida Aerospace Academy, a high school program supported by Sun 'n Fun.