An aviator’s guide to Sebring

A view of the Sebring ramp on takeoff from runway 18; racetrack and grandstands are in the background.

A view of the Sebring ramp on takeoff from runway 18; racetrack and grandstands are in the background.

The sixth annual U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida, kicks off next month.

Known as the Sebring LSA Expo, the event focuses on tire-kicking and demo flights of Light Sport Aircraft, ultralights, trikes and powered parachutes. The Expo is quickly becoming a favorite destination in balmy Florida at a time of the year when most of the nation is locked in snow and ice.

Unless you’re into cattle, race cars or aerobatics, you’ve probably never heard of the small hamlet of Sebring, 48 nm southeast of Lakeland (home to Sun ‘n Fun). Founded as a winter haven for northern tea-totalers in 1912 by George Sebring, a self-made millionaire and pottery manufacturer from Ohio, this town of 10,000 people was chosen in 1940 as the site for Hendricks Field, a World War II B-17 training base. Following the war, the abandoned runway 9-27 and open space on the west side of the renamed Sebring Regional Airport (SEF) attracted motorsports enthusiasts, with the first race being held in 1950.

The Sebring International Raceway is considered one of the world’s foremost road courses, and the annual 12 Hours of Sebring American Le Mans Series race attracts an international audience. Aerobatic pilots also discovered the airfield as an ideal location for competitions. Major contests are hosted there each spring and fall by IAC Chapter 23.

This past September I accompanied my son Tim, an LSA repairman, on a trip to Sebring, where he attended a Rotax training course at Lockwood’s Aero Technical Institute. Instead of catching up on my reading and writing next to the pool of the famed Chateau Elan hotel, I set off exploring the grounds by foot and the region around the airport by air, flying our 1952 Cessna 170. What I discovered surprised me.

For those planning on attending the Expo Jan. 21-24, you might find the following Aviator’s Guide to Sebring of use:

The author’s 1952 C-170 parked outside the Sebring Regional Airport’s terra-cotta FBO.

The author’s 1952 C-170 parked outside the Sebring Regional Airport’s FBO.

Sebring Flight Center: This full-service FBO run by ABS Aviation just opened a new self-service fuel farm that includes ethanol-free Mogas. J.R.’s Runway Café inside the FBO serves breakfast and lunch daily. The old control tower just north of the FBO is one of the few remaining World War II-era structures of its type in the nation.

EAA Chapter 1240, Florida’s “Heartland” chapter, meets the second Tuesday of each month in the Sebring FBO.

IAC Chapter 23 hosts annual aerobatic contests in the spring and fall.

Group 44 Hangar

Group 44 Hangar

“Group 44” Hangar: Next to the old tower, famed race car driver and team owner Bob Tullius displays his race car and vintage aircraft collection to the public. Donations appreciated.

Lockwood Group: The major aviation “anchor” at the Sebring airport, founded by sport aviation icon Phil Lockwood, includes Lockwood Aviation Supply, Lockwood Aviation Repair, Aero Technical Institute

Anchor tenant Lockwood Aviation

Lockwood Aviation

and Lockwood Aircraft, makers of the Air Cam and Drifter aircraft. Visitors are welcome.

Paradise Aircraft: The U.S. representative for Brazilian LSA maker Paradise welcomes visitors to its new facility.

FPNA-Float Planes and Amphibians offers a variety of powered parachutes, weight-shift trikes and three axis aircraft all in land and seaplane versions. The company’s office is inside the FBO.

A Paradise P1 on an early morning breakfast flight to nearby Okeechobee County Airport.

A Paradise P1 on an early morning breakfast flight to Okeechobee County Airport.

JB Aircraft Engine Service is a custom engine overhaul center at SEF.

PJ Aircraft Service is a Mooney specialist at the airport.

Four Points Sheraton Hotel “Chateau Elan Sebring”: Owned by industrialist Dr. Donald Panoz, founder of Panoz Motorsports, the Chateau is the place to stay when in Sebring. The hotel provides free transportation to and from the FBO.

Sebring International Raceway hosts the internationally acclaimed 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17-20, 2010, as well as many other racing events and public days when you can drive on the track yourself. Located across the street from Chateau Elan, the raceway office building includes a small museum and is home to the Sebring site for the noted Skip Barber Racing School.

Okeechobee County Airport (OBE), 29 nm SE of SEF, is near the town of Okeechobee and Lake Okeechobee, the second largest freshwater lake in the U.S. and home to the annual Speckled Perch Festival. The Landing Strip Café in the FBO (LandingStripCafe.com) opens at 6 a.m. and is a favorite meeting place for area cowboys.

River Acres residential airpark (FD70) [left] boasts a lovely grass strip along the pitch black Kissimmee River between Lakes Istokpoga and Okeechobee.

Avon Park Air Force Range is a very active target range. Its restricted airspace is just east and north of the Sebring airport.

Do you have a favorite destination in or around Sebring that’s not on this list? Send your comments to Kent Misegades at kmisegades@bellsouth.net. I’ll be looking for you at the Expo!

Kent Misegades is president of EAA Chapter 1114 in Apex, N.C., and has been flying since age 15.

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