While municipalities across the nation struggle with debilitating fiscal woes, record unemployment, and depressed property values, Winter Haven, Florida, has taken an unexpected but welcome turn. This small, central Florida city has adopted a decidedly pro-aviation stance that has led to the investment of millions of dollars into Gilbert Field (GIF), and the decision to throw the airport open to Sun ‘n Fun visitors with more enthusiasm than ever before.
“Winter Haven will be allowing under-the-wing camping on the field this year for the first time,” says assistant city manager Dale Smith. “This is a beautiful facility we have here. We’re just thrilled to be able to show it off to such a large audience.”
Winter Haven’s Gilbert Field has long been a mecca for general aviation enthusiasts. Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base is located on Lake Jessie, at the west end of the airport, and Richard Bach wrote the novel, “Illusions, the adventures of a reluctant messiah,” while living on the field. The city has also hosted countless student pilots who have come from all over the world, according to officials..
“It’s been a long time coming, but Winter Haven is embracing general aviation as a part of the fabric of our city,” says City Commissioner Jamie Beckett. “Gilbert Field is a real jewel. We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to make the most of it, and to be located right next door to Lakeland, where the second largest aviation gathering in North America takes place every April.” Beckett is a flight instructor who moved to central Florida to take his first flying job at Gilbert Field nearly 20 years ago.
With the addition of an expansive terminal building, the airport now has an on-site restaurant. Among other improvements and additions, the 5,000-foot calm wind runway has been resurfaced, and renamed. What was Runway 4–22 is now Runway 5–23. Self-serve fuel is now available 24 hours a day, as well.
For more information: 863-298-4551 or MyWinterHaven.com