Have plane, will tug

Airplanes are big part of Sun ‘n Fun, obviously.

The only part bigger are the people, such as the Exhibit Hosts committee, which is led by Bonnie Perkins.

A crew of eight to 10 people worked for three days (from 7 a.m. to sundown or beyond) before the show to move in dozens of aircraft. Try as they might to plan, “the best method for getting the aircraft to their respective spots are to go with the flow,” says volunteer Pete Eide of Cincinnati, Ohio. After all, they must work around varied aircraft arrival schedules, aircraft display area set-up with the associated tractor trailers of materials, and loads of people. Throw in inclement weather like the deluge before the 2008 fly-in and challenges abound.

“Cessna went into town and bought all the 3/4-inch plywood they could get their hands on. We used that to make temporary, portable ramps to move their aircraft into position, 8 feet at a time,” says six-year volunteer Mike “Ladybug” Clifton of Flagstaff, Arizona. “And the great part about that experience was, when we had their aircraft in position, they turned the lumber over to us to use with other manufacturers. That’s the true spirit of Sun ‘n Fun.”

While the volunteer corps swell for set-up and tear-down, the core group included Perkins, Clifton and Eide, as well as Sandy McKenzie, Sherrod “Doc” Campbell, Vicki Bellino and Bob Shain.

Shain from Lektro, the tug company, donates a brand-new tug for use every year during Sun ‘n Fun. After the show, the tug is cleaned up and delivered to its rightful owner. Shain has been coordinating this arrangement for more than 10 years.

During the show, the crew transitions into more of a jack-of-all-trades group. They keep the outdoor exhibit area cleared and in smooth working order. Aircraft movements drop to fewer than a dozen each day.

“In fact, we get to play ‘good cop’ during the week,” noted McKenzie. “We’ll find manufacturers’ support vehicles parked or positioned incorrectly and get them to move it before the ‘bad cops’ have them towed. The manufacturers sure appreciate that.”

The group also likes to have some fun. This year, after a long day of tugging aircraft, the crew came back to the grounds after dinner and put some rubber ducks, named for the crew, in a little pond in the Aviat display.

“The exhibitors certainly have the spirit of aviation in general and Sun ‘n Fun in particular,” added McKenzie. “That makes our ‘job’ a joy.”

For more information: Sun-n-Fun.org

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