Sun ’n Fun’s new president, John Leenhouts, has a mission: Make the yearly event in Lakeland, Florida, the “centerpiece of every aviator’s yearly calendar.”
Leenhouts, who was just appointed to the position, told an Oshkosh crowd that he’s amazed when he talks to pilots and asks if they are going to Sun ’n Fun and some of them have never heard of the Spring air show. “They get that deer in the headlights look,” he said. “That will end.”
“I want to turn this event into something the international aviation community will want to put on their calendar,” he said. “They may not get there because of weather, but they damn sure will know it’s there.”
Giving a nod to long-time president John Burton, who left the post to take over the top position at the Florida Air Museum, Leenhouts said it is time to take Sun ’n Fun to “the next level.”
“I can’t thank John and Kristin Burton enough,” he said. “They have given us a platform that we can leap off. It’s a new era.”
A 27-year veteran of the United States Navy who holds the record for the most carrier landings, Leenhouts, known as “Lites,” is also a long-time Sun ’n Fun volunteer. He was chosen from among 180 candidates who applied for the position, according to Sun ’n Fun officials. Leenhouts is just the third president for the organization. Burton held the post for 12 years, taking over from one of the fly-in’s founders, Billy Henderson.
Leenhouts obtained his private pilot license in 1970 and has accumulated more than 10,000 hours as pilot in command of various military, antique and civilian aircraft that include A-7, F-14, F/A-18A-F, A-6, E-2, C-1, C-2, S-3, P-3, SH-3, SH-60, T-33, T-28, F-16, and F-5 (military) as well as Cessna 150, 152, 170, 172, 182; Piper 140, 160, 180 (civilian); and Beech T-34 B&C, B-17, B-24, B-25, B-29, PT-13, PT-17, BT-13, AT-6, SNJ, P-51, AD-5 and TBM (vintage military aircraft aka “Warbirds”). He also holds Airline Transport Pilot (ATP), Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), Multi-Engine and Seaplane ratings.
Since his retirement from the Navy, Leenhouts has worked for more than 10 years for Northrop Grumman as the F/A-18 Project Manager in the Jacksonville, Florida area. Much of his work related to modification and overhaul for the F/A-18 “Super Hornet.”
The owner of a 1941 Stearman N2-S and a 1930 Waco RNF, Leenhouts said he is interested in getting an RV. “A couple of guys on my airpark have an RV-4 and an RV-8 and they are always kicking my butt in dogfights. I’m tired of that.”
While Leenhouts and his wife, Nancy, are relocating to Lakeland, he will keep his home at the Haller Airpark (7FL4), which has been turned into a museum, housing his collection of aviation memorabilia. Called “Trader John’s Fly Boy Bar,” the museum “gets a lot of attention,” Leenhouts admits.
“I’ve been an avid collector for 40 years,” he said. “I’ve never sold anything, but I do trade a lot. I’m obsessed — I admit it, I’m eaten up with aviation. It’s a bad habit and I can’t break it.”
For more information: Sun-n-Fun.org