When pigs fly…

After a boffo debut last year, SUN ‘n FUN reconvened its “When Pigs Fly South BBQ Challenge” Nov. 15-16 in Lakeland, Florida. Expectations were high. But crummy weather muted the event, which drew 51 competitors this year.

BBQ pros hailed from as far as Columbus, Ohio, Kansas City and Las Vegas. During set-up one worker exclaimed, “Hey, that’s Stretch!” Turns out, this Kansas City cooker had starred on cable TV’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and “BBQ Pitmasters.” He, like others, is a country culinary celeb with tongue-firmly-in-cheek.

Their humor was widely in evidence. Signage was a hoot — some of it on the edge for family consumption, but usually subtle. Cookers themselves were a colorful bunch. It seems they live for this, every weekend, somewhere.

SUN ‘n FUN-based organizations were there, too. Internet retailer PilotMall.com drew a crowd to its on-site Aviation Superstore with free Tums for BBQ samplers. A giant electronic highway sign blazed the message “Too Much BBQ?” followed by directions to the free Tums and “Gifts, Toys & More.”

The Central Florida Aerospace Academy Boeing 727 was open for cockpit tours.

The Seaplane Pilots Association had members enjoying the inclement day on its big back porch. Some 10 amphibs where on hand among the two dozen or so fly-ins, plus show planes. To my eye, weather was marginal VFR at very best. Beyond local showers and drizzle, heavy rain trained across Central Florida blocking access to KLAL from the north.

Hearing of the event’s huge success last year, I wanted to see for myself. Verdict? The concept is a winner. Give people what they want. It’s a draw that scores with the community and gives pilots a tasty reason to fly. The weather? SUN ‘n FUN management was philosophical: “It happens.”

After all these years, SUN ‘n FUN is still working to get its due from the community. Among pilots, they want to grow beyond the traditional once-a-year extravaganza. A new year-round schedule helps both causes. The “When Pigs Fly South BBQ Challenge” is one of the most potent new offerings.

Did it work this year? Let’s just say the weather stunk. Yet, perhaps a couple thousand people came out. Want to try it at your airport on a better day?


© 2013 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved


  1. Allan Durham says

    We planned to fly in for the event but the weather put paid to that idea, fortunately it was just a short drive over to Lakeland for us, and we were glad we made the effort to visit the BBQ, dispute the weather we had a great day, good food, good live music, and good company. Felt sorry for the organisers that the weather kept the crowds and fly-ins away.

  2. Chris Martin says

    I flew in last year and it was fun. Camped overnight with my son and I am all for it.

    So this year I had everything planned, tent in plane, and there were a pile of planes from my airport planning to go (KTMB) but MVFR to IFR weather kept everyone in the ground.

    My advice: If this event could happen Sat-Sun instead of Fri-Sat then you would have two opportunities to go there during the weekend (at least for those of us who work). Sunday’s weather was perfect. Oh well. Like another poster said, next year it will be.


  3. says

    Am a 33 year volunteer for the World’s greatest annual aviation event in Lakeland Florida —Sun-‘n-fun held each and every April on everyone’s calendar who even thinks about airplanes—–and——–I have to read about a “past” event held at the Sun-‘n Fun Fairgrounds that I had no knowledge of—-where did I “not” read a memo or an article about this event(—shame on me) in a Tampa Bay Area newspaper about a place where I “could have” had my pie-hole filled with Pappy’s Grill BBQ (permanent location— @ Winter Haven Airport–F57) or some of the Kansas City stuff.

    • Drew Steketee says


      Pilot Mall (PilotMall.com) sent out postcards to 10,000 FL pilots on the FAA list re: its Open House at Pigs Fly South. Didn’t get one? Also emailed all EAA chapters and avmedia calendar sections. I’m sure SNF did publicity with the press. Guess more needs to be done but it’s a winner and its reputation will grow through the years. – Drew

  4. John says

    My Bird lives in a hangar 100 miles from LAL. I sure had planned to go but wimped out because of bad weather. Now I feel guilty and wish I had driven to the fly’n. Pick-up truck + BBQ + Airport = FUN. Sorry guys, promise next year.

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