By JONI M. FISHER
At this year’s SUN ’n FUN, the Seabirds flocked to Lake Agnes at Fantasy of Flight for their 22nd Annual Splash-In.
The Splash-In, held on Thursday of the week-long SUN ’n FUN, attracted approximately 70 seaplanes and a large drive-in crowd. The seaplane pilots competed in a variety of contests and ended their day with the traditional banquet.
The Splash-In began as a private event in 1980, hosted by the family of Jack Brown, as in Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base in Winter Haven, Florida. Jack’s sons Jon and Chuck taught at the base and decided to invite friends to the south shore of Lake Parker for food, fun and competition.
According to Chuck Brown, what began with 10 airplanes quickly grew each year. In their third year of hosting the Splash-In, traffic backed up along Memorial Boulevard so much that the police ran them off for creating a traffic hazard.
They moved to the west side of Lake Parker and continued to grow until the Browns found it too challenging to handle the Splash-In while operating the seaplane base during their busiest week of the year.
In 1992 the Seaplane Pilots Association formed the Seabirds designation for SUN ‘n FUN. From then on, the association and the Seabirds took over the planning, promotion, and management of the Splash-In, according to Bill Schmalz, the Florida field director of the association.
Last year, the Seabirds raised enough money in sponsorships to donate $5,501 back to SUN ‘n FUN.
Though it has outgrown being a family event, the Splash-In at SUN ‘n FUN has retained camaraderie like an intimate flock of Seabirds.
Each year’s event begins the same way, with a fly-by of the SUN ’n FUN grounds at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport by the seaplanes. They then return to Lake Agnes for a variety of competitions, including a bomb drop (using a grapefruit) and a spot landing contest.
Winning the bomb drop winner this year was an Air Creation Float Trike, N84KC, flown by Kit Clews, with a score of 15 feet from the target inner tube.
The Spot Landing Contest ended in a tie of perfect scores: A Searey, N124A, flown by Ren Nitzshe, and a Cessna 150, N23191, flown by Mike Bailey.
The Takeoff Contest had only two of the five categories compete. In Class 2 (126 to 180 horsepower), the winner was a Carbon Cub, N127CC, flown by Troy Wheeler. In Class 3 (181 to 270 horsepower) the winner was an AirCam, N801EM, flown by Ed McNeil. No one competed in the Ultralight category, Class 1 (up to 125 horsepower), or Class 4 (271 and up horsepower).
British Air Cadets manned the judge’s boat and assisted on the ground. They ducked for cover under the boat canopy when a grapefruit from a Beech 18 dropped over the boat and landed 20 feet away. The Beech 18 does not have a clear view below, and the window configuration only allowed for the grapefruit to be pitched up instead of dropped.
Jon Brown talked about when they first held the Splash-In on the south shore of Lake Parker: “I’ll never forget we had one guy roll down his window and hold out a grapefruit. When he let it go, he missed the whole lake.”
Between competitions, Kermit Weeks, the owner of Fantasy of Flight, flew three fly-bys in his aircraft. He flew a Sikorsky that had a giraffe paint scheme, a Grumman Duck named Candy Clipper, and a Wildcat. Fantasy of Flight closed to the public at the end of this year’s SUN ’n FUN. Weeks has announced plans to develop his property into something more than an aviation museum.
Following tradition, the day ended with a banquet prepared by Texas Cattle Company.
On a side note, I would like to nominate Tom Dunn of Lake Placid, Florida, for Most Heroic Volunteer for wading into waist-high, snake-infested reeds to hand-tow aircraft on straight floats to shore in the early morning hours.