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Fun, slow airplanes and fast carsFun, slow airplanes and fast cars

Sebring, FloridaSebring, Florida

Pilots looking for a winter warm-up with an aviation theme are in luck: The annual U.S. Sport Aviation Expo takes place each January in Sebring, Florida—the perfect spot to escape cold winter weather. Fly to Sebring and spend a day checking out the latest in innovative aviation design. Because of its focus on light sport aircraft, homebuilts, and ultralights, this is the fly-in where you’ll see the largest concentration of affordable aircraft and avionics that push the technology envelope. From ultra-STOL airplanes to gyrocopters to electrics, Sebring’s slogan, “Flying into the Future!” is exactly right—and many of the manufacturers offer demonstration flights during the expo. After you get your aviation fix, you’ll find plenty of other ways to enjoy the warm Florida weather.

  • The year’s first big fly-in, the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, is held each January in Sebring, Florida. There’s something for everyone, from super-sleek composite designs to big-tire, super-STOL backcountry aircraft. Photo courtesy U.S. Sport Aviation Expo.
  • This Pipistrel Virus is among the many Experimental aircraft on display at the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo. Photo courtesy U.S. Sport Aviation Expo.
  • This Kitfox has been all around the U.S. on floats or wheels, as the photos on its van attest. With folding wings, a Kitfox doesn’t need to be stored in a hangar. Photo courtesy U.S. Sport Aviation Expo.
  • Sebring is home to the premiere sport aviation exhibition. It's also home to the AirCam and the Lockwood Aviation group of companies. Built to fly low and slow, the AirCam offers unmatched visibility and two engines. Photo courtesy U.S. Sport Aviation Expo.
  • With the FAA’s 2017 approval of non-TSO’d avionics from Garmin and Dynon for use in certified aircraft, more pilots can afford the added durability and safety of “glass panel” instruments. The U.S. Sport Aviation Expo is a great place to see how you can get more airplane (or avionics) for less money. Photo courtesy U.S. Sport Aviation Expo.
  • AOPA conducts “Rusty Pilot” seminars at the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, designed to get pilots back into the air. Photo courtesy U.S. Sport Aviation Expo.
  • The U.S. Sport Aviation Expo provides plenty of opportunities for drone enthusiasts to learn about and have fun with drones. Photo courtesy U.S. Sport Aviation Expo.
  • Super-slow flight, demonstrated in a SuperSTOL from Just Aircraft. The wing incorporates self-deploying leading-edge slats and long span Fowler flaps to further improve the aircraft’s stall range. The aircraft can thus be flown at extremely high angles of attack, permitting it to ‘drop’ into small or inclined clearings. The landing gear system takes full advantage of a hydraulic strut with a long distance of travel. The tail wheel also incorporates a hydraulic shock to lessen aggressive off airport landings. Photo courtesy U.S. Sport Aviation Expo.
  • This elegant Revo Evolution Trike sold at the expo. Somebody’s going to be having some fun! Photo courtesy U.S. Sport Aviation Expo.
  • The No. 93 SRT Motorsports Viper GTS-R on the historic Sebring International Raceway track during practice for the 12 Hours of Sebring. Photo courtesy Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
  • Elevated walkways keep your feet dry as you explore the Highlands Hammock State Park. Photo by Adam Wilson courtesy Florida State Parks.
  • A young alligator is reflected in the quiet waters of Highlands Hammock State Park. Photo by Jesse Spray courtesy Florida State Parks.
  • A pileated woodpecker at Highlands Hammock State Park. Photo by Priscilla McDaniel courtesy Florida State Parks.
  • About 95% of all caladiums grown commercially are grown in Lake Placid, Florida, near Sebring. This Caladium bicolor is called “Florida Sweetheart.” Photo by Derek Ramsey via Wikipedia.
  • One of many beautiful murals in Lake Placid, this one depicts native Florida wildlife. Photo by Richard Elzey via Flickr.

If you’re flying to the expo, check the website in advance for fly-in procedures and information. Pilots who wish to camp with their aircraft or display their homebuilts need to register before arrival. Sebring Regional Airport is smack-dab in the center of Florida and just outside Restricted Area R-2901 A&B that overlays MacDill Air Force Base, so it’s a good idea to be talking to Miami Center. The area’s numerous lakes look especially inviting if you’re flying a seaplane; check the Seaplane Pilots Association’s Water Landing Directory to find out which ones you can land on.

The U.S. Sport Aviation Expo has about 150 aircraft from around the world on display. Utilizing the latest materials and technologies, engineers have designed aircraft that sip fuel or use battery power, airplanes that are fast and IFR-capable, and others that can fly so slowly that they barely need any space to take off or land. The expo offers workshops, live music, and a “Dronezone” for drone enthusiasts; plus you can get your second or third class medical out of the way.

This airplane sports rows of solar cells behind its canopy. Photo courtesy U.S. Sport Aviation Expo.

Mention Sebring and pilots may think of the expo, but most folks associate Sebring with the Sebring International Raceway and its prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring, a European Grand Prix-style endurance race held each March. They also hold drag racing and club events. The raceway is adjacent to the airport and part of the track is original runway that dates back to World War II. 

The Sebring area offers plenty more to keep visitors entertained, starting with shopping and dining in the historic downtown Sebring on the Circle. Stop by the Sebring Historical Society to learn about the local area or catch a play at the Highlands Little Theatre. Near the theatre, the Highlands Art League has art exhibitions and “Art Uncorked” classes, where you’ll complete an art project in one evening. Twelve miles west of the airport in Highlands Hammock State Park, you can cross cypress swamps on elevated boardwalks, and hike through forests of palms, pines, and old-growth hammock. Along the way, you might spot alligators, deer, barred owls, sandhill cranes, or pileated woodpeckers. Many of the Florida state park buildings and trails were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC); visit the CCC Museum in the park to learn more about this fabulous program.

Gyrocopters, enormously popular in Europe, are still a new concept to many U.S. pilots. You can check them out at the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo. Photo courtesy U.S. Sport Aviation Expo.

On the south shore of beautiful Lake Jackson, Inn on the Lakes offers beautiful, modern guest rooms and fine dining at Chicanes. A hot breakfast is included with your stay. If you’re a golfer, take advantage of their golf packages—11 quality courses are nearby, and the inn’s golf experts will help you choose the right course for you.

In Avon Park, 10 miles north of downtown Sebring, you can stay at the Hotel Jacaranda, built in the 1920s and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The restaurant’s buffets are popular, especially on Sundays from November through May when pianist Jeff Klein plays musical favorites and special requests. At the nearby South Florida State College, you can visit the Museum of Florida Art and Culture, open Wednesday through Friday afternoons, adjacent to the Theater for the Performing Arts.

Lake Placid, 15 miles south of the airport, was voted “America’s Most Interesting Town” by Reader’s Digest in 2013. Known as the Town of Murals, Lake Placid has 47 larger-than-life historic murals that form an outdoor art gallery. Shop for unique, locally created gifts and get a mural guide at the Caladium Arts and Crafts Co-op. You also can visit the Clown Museum and School, where over 2,500 clowns have graduated since 1993. Fly in for the expo in January; come back for the car racing in March!

Sun ‘N Lake Golf Club offers 36 holes of championship golf. Book your tee time on Turtle Run, designed by Charles Ankrom, or Deer Run, a classic Don-Dyer designed, 72-par course. Photo courtesy Sun ‘N Lake Golf Club.

Share your favorite destination in the AOPA Hangar: Places to fly, things to do, where to eat! 

Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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